- Veronika Babayan (The Netherlands – Armenia)
Olga Ganzha (The Netherlands)
Tatevik Ghukasyan (Russia – Armenia)
masharu (The Netherlands)
Curator: Susanna Gyulamiryan (Armenia)
Yerevan Modern Art Museum, Armenia
September 18-28, 2021
Motherland in its various interpretations – such as Mother Earth, Mother Goddess, motherhood, Mother Heroine, homeland, patriotism, citizenship and nationality – is the theme of the artistic rethinking and reflections in the joint international project of Veronika Babayan, Olga Ganzha, Tatevik Ghukasyan and masharu.
The exhibition encourages a more critical response to the patriarchal pressure on women and young girls in Armenia, according to which they must accept their role as reproductive instruments, birth-givers of boys, who will later grow into soldiers. Growing up as a woman in this society, one is told continuously that their mission is to make use of their uterus and give birth to ‘as many Armenian boys as possible.’ Opposing to this normalized dominant ideology can be perceived as being anti-patriotic and refusing to serve the future of the nation. As much as the fear of extinction may be justified for the Armenians, women cannot bear the weight of gender-selective reproduction as their main or, even worse, as their only purpose of existence. In today’s world, women are no longer defined nor validated by their ability to give birth to healthy boys. Two of the earliest feminist writers Adrienne Rich and Sara Ruddick, have taken radical looks on the historical construction of motherhood (1972 – 1996). Rich celebrates maternity as a tool to engage in antimilitarist activism and Ruddick advocates for motherhood as politics of peace. Some discourses link women specifically to the environment because of their traditional social role as a nurturer and caregiver. Several ecofeminist scholars have made the distinction that it is not because women are female or ‘feminine’ that they relate to nature, but because of their similar states of oppression by the same male-dominant forces. The marginalization is evident in the gendered language used to describe nature, such as Mother Earth or Mother Nature, and the animalized language used to describe women. Ecofeminists following in this line of thought believe that these connections are illustrated through the coherence of socially-labeled values associated with ‘femininity’ such as nurturing, which are present both among women and in nature.
In the context of the Soviet Union, the Mother-Motherland sculptures investigated by Olga Ganzha (in Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Armenia) call upon the imagery of Mother Earth as a symbol of unity, relating to the soldiers who died to protect the land and thus also resonate with analogies of war and sacralized violence. Olga Ganzha explores the monumental sculptures of the Motherland, that intertwine and represent multiple meanings associated with “Soviet matriarchy”, contemporary gender studies and a certain direction in the feminist movement and art.
Veronika Babayan uses traditional women’s practices to investigate the concept of transgenerational trauma and to understand how maternal care functions as a mnemonic device in a child’s identity formation. In her work, the tradition of fruit leather making (թթու լավաշ) pulls from a larger collective memory, serving as a vessel through which deracinated testimonials of transgenerational trauma circulate beyond territory, language and citizenship.
The explorations of masharu have brought them to reflect on Earth as a transitory element in designing a “citizen of the world” identity. Relating to ancient practices, masharu eats the earth of the countries where they travel as a means to connect themselves with the different lands. In a sense, eating edible soils from many countries tends to enrich the biological and spiritual structure of oneself into becoming a “citizen of the world”. The approach of the Museum of Edible Earth therefore relates to a more general narrative of Mother Earth, providing in a non-discriminatory way to all individuals.
Tatevik Ghukasyan explores the collective trauma of Armenian genocide through the lenses of different relationships with Earth – owning the land vs belonging to the Earth. While the traumatic experience is rooted in the pain of and longing for “the lost land”, the feeling of connection with the Earth, on the contrary, can become a means of healing and reconciliation, as the artist thinks. Tatevik shares a story of her journey to Turkey where she made a ritual of reconnection with Earth and reconciliation with traumatic events by planting trees and remembering victims.
In a context of intercultural dialogues, the artists explore the symbolism of the Earth, stretching it between opposite ideas of the Motherland and Mother Earth, one for the few and one for the many. The artists are questioning what it means to relate to and care for Land, echoing the current political climate of ecological crisis and the rise of nationalisms. Furthermore, to question the gender of the Land, relating to non-patriarchal structures in order to respect and connect with the Land, rather than to use and exploit it within a capitalistic system.
The exhibition is organized in the frame of the international programs of the ‘Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory’
Armenian text here.
Susanna Gyulamiryan (Yerevan, Armenia) is a curator, art critic, researcher and feminist activist who has initiated and implemented numerous exhibitions, educational programs, and public events in Armenia and internationally. In 2007, she co-founded the non-governmental organization ‘Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory’ (ACSL), where she is currently the appointed president. In 2008, she also founded the ‘Art Commune’ International Artist-in-Residence Program in Yerevan, which is a general member of the Res Artis worldwide network of artist residencies. Additionally, since 2006, she has been a member of AICA-Armenia (International Association of Art Critics). Further, during a period of ten years, Gyulamiryan has led courses in Gender Studies and Feminist Art (Theory and Practice) at the Department of Fine Arts, Armenian Open University (International Academy of Education); and, in 2019, Gyulamiryan was appointed curator of the Pavilion of Republic of Armenia, entitled ‘Revolutionary Sensorium’ at the 58th Intentional Art Exhibition, La Biennae Di Venezia.
Olga Ganzha (Volgograd, 1981) is Russian multimedia artist who currently lives and works in the Netherlands. Her works range from photography, graphics and artist’s books to texts and audio-visual installations. Olga received her MA in Linguistics and Literature from Volgograd state university (RU) and a BA in Graphic Design from St.Joost Art Academy in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NL) in 2012. Nowadays Olga works on autonomous projects, balancing on the edge of design and art. In works she often looks for balance, connecting disjointed elements or elements of different grounds in an interdisciplinary way; ritualizing personal memories of history and culture in ‘art-like’ shapes. She participated in a number of residencies, exhibitions and collaborative projects in Europe, Africa and former Soviet countries.
The ‘My Armed Mothers’ project comes from a deep personal experience of the artist. Olga was born in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) and raised in a culture largely devoted to WWII rituals, celebrations, and various forms of remembrance. This cultural obsession with war, victory and self-sacrifice was reflected around her to the point that it felt like the religion of her childhood.
The ‘My Armed Mothers’ project is supported by Mondriaan Fund and W.E.Jansens Fund.
Veronika Babayan (München, 1994) is an artist, writer and educator whose work emerges between Armenia and the Netherlands. She uses a meta-autobiographical approach to study pedagogies that affect the perpetual production of national identity. By looking at motherhood, she works with collective memories that offer alternative accounts to those of mainstream histories. Using traditional women’s practices, she emphasizes the role of feminism in undermining hegemonic authority in patriotic memory. Veronika reaches out through existing cultural elements, signs and symbols shared between antagonistic histories to discover how they could transcend nationalistic narratives and create spaces for interterritorial belonging. Veronika studied at the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, then at the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam, and obtained her master’s degree at the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam, in 2020. She has been a guest lecturer in Critical Studies at the Willem de Kooning Academy and is now co-curator of public programs at Kunstinstituut Melly in Rotterdam. Currently, she is working on publishing her MA thesis ‘Dear Mother; Fluid Mechanism of Belonging.’
Dr. masharu (Moscow, 1984) is a creative with a background in science. Their projects combine scientific research with a personal approach and cultural practices. In 2011 masharu obtained a PhD in Mathematical Image Analysis from Eindhoven University of Technology and graduated with honours from Photo Academy Amsterdam. In 2013-2014 they were a resident at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunst in Amsterdam. In 2018 masharu was an artist fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS-KNAW). masharu’s work has been exhibited, screened and published in Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Ukraine, UK and USA in such venues and events as African Artists’ Foundation in Lagos, Spanish Cultural Centre in Guatemala City, World Design Event in Eindhoven, ReadyTex Gallery in Paramaribo, 4th Jakarta Contemporary Ceramics Biennale in Jakarta, European Ceramic Workcentre in Oisterwijk, Sustainica in Dusseldorf, Holland Festival, Transnatural in Amsterdam, 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Arts in Moscow and Museo Maritimo in Bilbao.
The ‘Museum of Edible Earth’ in 2021 is supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL and Tijl Fonds, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. The artistic practice of masharu is supported by the Mondriaan Fund.
Tatevik Ghukasyan (Yerevan, 1984) is an artist, facilitator, embodiment therapist and trainer with a background in human rights and peacemaking. Born in Armenia in 1984, at the age of 9 she immigrated with her family to Russia. She grew up in Moscow and received an MA in linguistics and intercultural communication and later she studied at the master’s program in social philosophy at the Russian State University for Humanities. Her experience varies from being a professor at the university, coordinating educational, cultural and peacemaking projects to working with teams and communities on topics of human rights, deep ecology and embodied conflict resolution . Tatevik is co-founder of the project ‘On the Edge,’ co-editor of the documentary book ‘Last to know: stories of a war’ and the film ‘Voices of Immersion.’ Tatevik’s artistic interest now focuses on the topics of war and reconciliation, traditional culture and rituals as healing and transformation practices, deep ecology, connection with nature and body.