They stand at 8 to 15 feet tall, surrounding people with their knowing faces. Imposing photographic sculptures of survivors from the 1915 Armenian genocide come to life in California State University, Northridge photography professor Levon Parian’s exhibition “iwitness,” according to the university’s official webpage.
Showcased at Los Angeles Grand Central Park, Parian’s 24 mammoth photo sculptures stand out at the epicenter of a maze-like installation. Each of the structures is supported by 2,000 lbs. of cement at the base and 500 lbs. of steel for the frame to be able to withstand 125-mph wind, Parian said.
“The whole point was to make a public art statement in an environment that is huge,” Parian said. “It needed to be something that people would notice. This way people have to actually walk through and around the images.”
With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Parian and his photography partner, Ara Oshagan, and architect Vahagn Thomasian used “iwitness” as a testament to the survivors in their show. The photo structures are part of a much larger project.
Parian began photographing Armenian Genocide survivors in 1989. In 1996 he started to work with Oshagan on what is now called the “Genocide Project,” a series of more than 80 portraits and oral histories from eye witness survivors designed to bring attention to the genocide.
“The reason we pursue this work is to preserve history and to counter the Turkish government’s denial of the genocide,” Parian said. “The word ‘genocide’ was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to describe the events of what happened to the Armenians in 1915, so how can you deny it?”
As both sides of his family have survivors, his work is also a testament to them.
“My mother’s parents fled to Jerusalem and stayed in an Armenian convent, and my father’s father was an Ottoman cavalry soldier who escaped to the desert and brought thousands of fellow survivors to safety,” he said.
The show will be at Los Angeles Grand Central Park through May 31, but Parian said he hopes the park is just the first stop.
“We’ve had offers from Fresno, Sacramento, New York and even Paris,” he said. “There are still a lot of possibilities for the show to travel.”
Parian noted that the “Genocide Project” is ever developing. A book will soon be published with stories and images of survivors.
“It’s a work in progress; it has been since its inception,” he said.