By Anna K. Gargarian, AGBU Curator & Cultural Projects Advisor

“I don’t know how to explain it, but your art has a surprisingly strong Armenian sensibility for a non-Armenian” I told artist, Dana Walrath, over our first skype call after looking at her online portfolio.To which Dana responded, “Thank you, but, well, I’m Armenian”.

“Circles, Birds, and Vegetation” mixed media collage, triptych, 70 x 100cm (each).

The collage series features bits of a 1961 Soviet era Atlas, Armenian manuscript motifs, and drawings in graphite. The works explores the fetishization of borders and uses the map of Armenia to represent the female head.

Like me, virtually every Armenian who enters our exhibit “Mapping identity: figures, borders and nations” at AGBU Yerevan is surprised by the Anglo-Saxon name that accompanies the works on view. Because, indeed, they are so Armenian.

“Armenian” is a strange adjective to use for art, because although there are distinctive traits to national styles (think of the bright colors of Mexican murals or the minimalist qualities of Japanese works on paper) identity, and moreover “national identity” is blurry territory for Armenians. As a global nation with a diaspora that exceeds its local population fourfold, Armenians are a community comprised of many subcultures with discrete (and some not-sodiscrete) differences. Our relationship to borders themselves is troubled, to say the least.

So what does it mean for artwork to be described as “so Armenian”?

Maybe it’s the almost paleolithic quality of the lines in Dana’s works- etched into the surfaces of stone and metal plates, inked over and imprinted on textural paper; or maybe it’s her obsession with landscape and the reappearance of mountain motifs that inhabit so many Armenian artists’ works; or maybe still it’s that all-too familiar recipe of joy, introspection with an aftertaste of melancholy, that the works inspire all at once. Whatever it is, the works are powerful, engaging, strong, and boldly contemporary.

Ararat, 1983 drypoint with Chine-collé on BFK Rives paper, 1/1 26cm x 23cm

Red Mountain, 1985 etching with viscosity, red and sienna pigments on Arches paper, artist proof, 45cm x 32cm

“Mapping identity: figures, borders and nations” opened on Friday, September 16th at AGBUYerevan on the occasion of an international conference organized by Women in War in collaboration with The Museum of Archeology and Ethnography, DAVV, and AGBU. Speakers from all over the world came to discuss trauma after genocide from a gendered perspective. Among the exhibited works is a tablet-installation with adjacent paper facsimiles that recreate the original installation of nine handmade artist books imbedded in slate and displayed on a wooden table. The piece is called “View from the High Ground”, and represents nine genocides from all over the world of the past 500 years. As the central piece to the exhibit, Dana and I wanted to provide a global framework for the works: hostile borders and histories of genocide are not unique to Armenia.

Left: The original installation of “View fromt he High Ground”. Right: Exhibition shot at AGBU featuring the “View” installation in its tablet format. Tablets courtesy of AUA.

The exhibit was well received by the press, and the works provided an important and alternative vehicle for conversation on issues of human violence and injustice addressed in the conference.

Dana recently presented the “View from the High Ground” series at an inner city public high school in Philadelphia themed around social justice. The school is called Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice, and the student body is 95% African-American. When I asked Dana how the students reacted to the works, her response was:

“Oh, it was incredible! I mean, they were into it, and those are tough works. But they finally felt like ‘yes, somebody got it, that’s what we’re going through!’”

Among the nine genocides Dana features in View is the genocide of African Americans, which she’s subtitled as “on-going” in reference to the continued crimes and injustice committed against blacks in the US due to police shootings and racial-profiling.

So, rather than “Armenian” I should probably describe Dana’s works as deeply human. She has honed in on universal experiences of pain, that reveal our imperfections and fragility in a way that is not so much victimizing but empathizing.

Dana spoke about her work in New York and in Detroit last week, and she will be heading to the University of Georgia Athens to accept a Distinguished Artists’ Award.

You can see Dana’s work on-view at AGBU, Yerevan until Nov 1, 2016. All works are for sale, and 50% of proceeds goes to support AGBU humanitarian causes like Syrian Refugee support. Contact AGBU Exhibitions for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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