New East Digital Archive

Discover the overlooked women artists who changed art history in Armenia and the world

Discover the overlooked women artists who changed art history in Armenia and the world
Image: Armenian photographer Ida Kar takes a self-portrait, 1962

Challenge the cannon with this Follow of the Week, bringing Armenia’s greatest women artists into the spotlight.

5 December 2019

Armenian Women Artists is an Instagram account that stretches across the ages: gathering the greatest women artists from Armenia and the diaspora to bring often undervalued work to a wider audience than ever before.

Created by Cassandra Tavukciyan, a Canadian archivist and art researcher with Armenian roots, the account celebrates artworks ranging from surrealist photography to post-impressionist or socialist-realist painting.

The Calvert Journal asked Cassandra more about Armenian creators in today’s art world, the inspiration behind the account, and her Instagram goals for the future.

Cassandra, tell us more about yourself. How you came up with the idea for this account?

I’m an archivist and researcher working at a small, non-profit historical society in Toronto, in addition to contributing to several collaborative research and archival projects with various cultural institutions and non-profit organisations.

Armenian Women Artists (AWA) emerged both from my personal and academic background. I wanted to brush up on my own knowledge and lack of awareness; despite being exposed to Armenian music, art and culture from an early age, I realised that I couldn’t name one Armenian woman artist. I soon discovered that there were countless Armenian women who played a vital role in society and culture.

AWA was a very natural progression. In a sense, my goal is to make the history of Armenian women artists more accessible to a wider public, both Armenian and non-Armenian alike. It’s important to note that while these women are Armenian, they are also examples of Russian, Ottoman, American, European, Soviet etc. women artists. I always try to stress that duality in my posts.

Which Armenian women artists should we start getting to know, and why?

Soviet-Armenian painter and ceramist Mariam Aslamazyan, who lived between 1907 and 2006, was one of the first Armenian women artists I came across and inspired the creation of the account. Aslamazyan was able to forge a successful career and garner international respect and acknowledgement — her works were exhibited across Europe, Mexico, Africa, and India — thus paving the way for future women artists to come.

I’m also a great admirer of painter Armine Galentz. Born in Damascus in 1920, Syria, Galentz established her career in Yerevan, Soviet Armenia, where she repatriated with her family in 1946, after exhibiting her work in Aleppo and Beirut. Despite initially facing harsh criticism as a repatriate, she was eventually embraced by the local artistic scene and held her first solo-exhibition in Yerevan in 1962.

Photographer Ida Kar was born in Tambov in the Russian Empire in 1907, later settling in London after opening a photographic studio in Cairo, Egypt. Kar was instrumental in encouraging the recognition of photography as a form of fine art and was the first photographer to have a retrospective exhibition at a major London art gallery.

These artists not only represent a range of artistic expression and mediums, but the global nature of the Armenian diaspora and culture. Their sense of agency and self-determination, as both women and artists, continue to inspire myself and those who follow the account.

What has been the role of the female Armenian artists in the diaspora? How are they perceived in Armenia, and how did they integrate into their new homelands?

In short, these women are, and were perceived as, intellectual and moral leaders among Armenians and non-Armenians alike. Intellectual activity, particularly among those in the diaspora, was a means through which to integrate into the broader culture and society of their adopted countries. In so doing, these women simultaneously introduced Armenian culture and history to people who would have otherwise remained unaware.

I aim to feature artists that reflect the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of Armenians both in Armenia and the diaspora. Again, there is a dual purpose here; to familiarise people with the breadth of Armenian diversity and experience, while also creating a platform for dialogue.

How have women artists historically been perceived in Armenia?

In the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), appreciation of the arts was widely encouraged, and there was a commitment by the government to promote equality between the sexes as a fundamental principle of socialism. As a result, women came to occupy important state supported positions among the Armenian nomenklatura and intelligentsia. This, of course, does not speak to the experience of all Armenian women during the Soviet period — especially those who lived outside of the capital city — but it’s clear to me that these policies had a significant impact on the ways in which Armenian women were able to develop and enhance their careers.

AWA aims to revive such histories and stories by both recovering and reclaiming Armenian women’s contributions and their role in our collective history. While AWA is currently focused on recognising historical Armenian figures, I hope to be able to facilitate such dialogue in contemporary contexts as well.

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