Critics’ Forum articles

Toward an Expanded Notion of the Witness: The Promise of Armenian Oral History Collections

This spring marks the end of renowned historian Richard Hovannisian’s time at UCLA, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1962 and the first holder of the Armenian Education Foundation (AEF) Chair in Modern Armenian History since 1987. Those who are familiar with Hovannisian’s prolific record as a writer, editor, lecturer, organizer, and professor, might endow the news of his retirement with a hint of euphemism. In fact, during the recent event, “Forever our Professor,” organized in Hovannisian’s honor by his recent and former students, the beloved professor announced that he would return to the UCLA campus the following year to teach a course in Comparative Genocide Studies.

Genocide Memorials: Symbolism, Ritual Use, and Meaning

This year, April 24 falls on Easter Sunday, a coincidence that is symbolically significant, at once tragic and hopeful. Naturally, the confluence also presents scheduling difficulties for many members of the Armenian community. In recognition of that fact, the commemoration program at the Genocide memorial in Montebello, California, for example, will take place the day before, on April 23rd.

The Future of the Past: Toward the Preservation of Armenian Manuscripts

On January 19, 2011, the University of California, Los Angeles hosted a lecture by UC Davis Art History Professor Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh, entitled “Heritage in Conflict: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript.” Watenpaugh’s lecture focused on the conflict surrounding the seven detached leaves of Canon Tables belonging to the Zeytʿun Gospels, which recently resurfaced after their mysterious disappearance half a century ago. In 1994, these missing pages were loaned by an anonymous collector to the Morgan Library in New York for a public exhibition. The same year, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles claimed to have legally acquired the Canon Tables – presumably from the same unnamed collector – for an unclosed sum of money. Last year, the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America filed a lawsuit against the J. Paul Getty Museum challenging its ownership of the Canon Tables and demanding their return. The Canon Tables were separated from the original Zeyt’un Gospels, currently housed in the Maštoc’ Matenadaran (Ms. 10450) in Yerevan Armenia, during the Armenian Genocide.

Critics Forum: The Year That Was (Not)

Hard to believe, but for the first nine months of the past year, Armenian theater in Southern California practically did not exist. It seemed as if all its key producers – aside from the Ardavazt Theater Company, which revived a pair of one-acts – had decided to stage … their own disappearance. Indeed, finding an Armenian play proved about as likely as encountering a unicorn.

Western Armenian in Peril: UNESCO’s Recognition and the Question of Contemporary Literature in the Exilic Language

In February of this year, Western Armenian joined UNESCO’s online Atlas of World Languages in Danger1, earning the “definitely” status within the list’s degrees of endangerment. Out of the five-tier spectrum that ranges from “vulnerable” to “extinct,” “definitely endangered” refers to a language that children no longer learn as their mother tongue at home. The degrees of endangerment, which measure the diminishing vitality of vulnerable languages, are established fundamentally on the basis of a language’s intergenerational transmission, among other factors such as absolute number of speakers or proportion of usage within the total population. A language is considered extinct when, after a period of non-transmission, it has no more speakers.

The Forging of an Artistic Identity: A Gorky Retrospective

Los Angeles is the proud recipient of the final installment of the traveling exhibition, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective. The exhibition began at the Philadelphia Museum of Art before moving on to the Tate Modern in London and is now appearing at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It will remain at MOCA’s downtown location on Grand Avenue, across the street from the Disney Concert Hall, until September 20, 2010. The show was organized by Michael Taylor, curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the College Art Association conference last year when we both presented papers on the panel titled Surrealism au naturel – he on Gorky and I on the Armenian surrealist, Léon Tutundjian.

Sara Anjargolian’s Photography: Re-Imagining the Homeland in Diasporic Discourse

Los Angeles-based photographer Sara Anjargolian recently exhibited her work in the engaging and interactive exhibition, How We Live. Along with another of Anjargolian’s recent projects, Not Here, How We Live focuses its lens on Armenia; while the earlier traces the realities of poverty, the latter documents the disruptive effects of labor migration on families. Like many other diasporic artists, Anjargolian also uses her medium as a vehicle for coming to terms with the role of Armenia in her own identity. As artist and theorist R. B. Kitaj notes in First Diasporist Manifesto (1989), “Diasporist [art] is an unfolding commentary on its life-source” (p. 31), and as such, it reveals the responses to the condition of being in the diaspora. Therefore, beyond their immediate subject – the portrayal of poverty-stricken families in Armenia living in dire conditions and eking out a living for themselves – Anjargolian’s photographs also engage larger themes concerning the construction of diasporic identity as it relates to Armenia.