Art fair in Istanbul showcases works by Armenian artists

Since 2010, art fair Contemporary Istanbul has been offering a glittering special section called “Art from Armenia.” Although there are currently no diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia, there is a growing cultural relationship which promises a brand new future for both countries. With the aim of discovering regional art and gathering Armenian artists and Turkish art lovers, “Art from Armenia” has hosted many Armenian painters in Istanbul over the past three years, Today’s Zaman reports.

This year’s “Art from Armenia” selection, on display until Sunday at the IstanbulCongressCenter, features paintings and sculptures by six Armenian artists: Daron Mouradian, Vahram Davtian, Emil Kazaz, Armen Gevorgian, Ara Mikaelian and Ruben Grigorian.

Aram Sargsyan, the curator of the exhibition in 2011, has contributed to the exhibition this year as well. According to Sargsyan, people in Istanbul have respect for art. “I have seen many paintings on the walls of restaurants and they were high standard paintings. So in Istanbul, you do not have to go to a museum, you are exposed to art everywhere.”

Mentioning the history of art in Armenia, Sargsyan is very proud of the young generation artists who are contributing to the development of traditional Armenian art. Noting that Armenia has many talented artists, Sargsyan said the Armenian Art Association alone currently has around 1,200 members. “I would like to contribute to this exhibition with many other Armenian artists in the coming years,” he added.

This year, artist Mouradian is one of the fair’s special guests from Armenia. His paintings offer a combination of themes from mythological tales from the East and the West. Based on the Bible and mythology, his world of fantasies tells the viewers a story they’ve never heard before.

When asked about the stories in his paintings, Mouradian said his only story was the painting and the rest was up to art lovers. “I only paint. And people who are looking at my paintings read the story they see there. It is up to their imagination,” he added.

This is Mouradian’s second visit to Istanbul in nine years. However, he said he was not able to see any art in Istanbul during his first visit, in 2004. His response tells a lot about the cultural relationship between Armenia and Turkey. Starting from no relationship, now we can imagine a closer dialogue.

Onno Ayvaz, a collector and the coordinator of the exhibition, was the person who made this exhibition possible.

He recalls: “A friend of mine, who is an antiquarian, invited several artists from Armenia to showcase their work in Contemporary Istanbul. But they did not accept his invitation. He called me at the last minute, asking for help. So, four years ago, I contributed to the exhibition with selected works by Armenian artists from my own collection.”

Ayvaz was surprised by connoisseurs’ interest in the first “Art from Armenia.” He was asked to contribute in the following years as well. Ayvaz’s contribution and the huge interest paved the way for “Art from Armenia” to become a staple on the fair’s program.

Ayvaz says this exhibition helps strengthen the relationship between the two countries: “Art is a very meaningful way to communicate. Armenians and Turks, people who had lived together for hundreds of years, have been separated for the past 100 years. This is how I see this situation. And you can feel the [similarity] in culture, in perception. Here [in this art fair] it is like we were never separated from each other.”

However, Ayvaz is troubled by bureaucratic difficulties arising from the lack of diplomatic relationships between the two countries. All the paintings in the exhibition are from his private collection because it is currently not possible to import paintings from Armenia. Those who want to do so have to obtain special permission from the Turkish government to transfer art work from Armenia.

“These bureaucratic processes are very exhausting. Seemingly, you can get that permission, but bureaucrats are very hesitant to help because there are no diplomatic ties between the two countries,” he says. “Nevertheless, we’ll keep trying and, who knows, maybe next year we can really bring works of art from Armenia to Contemporary Istanbul,” he said.

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