Art creating action: Artist Nairi Afrikyan transmits a new perspective of the Armenian Genocide

London-based artist Nairi Afrikyan understands the implicit importance of utilizing one’s tools of imagination and creativity to drive a new perception of our surroundings. After graduating from the renowned University Arts London: Central Saint Martins, Afrikyan’s integral mission within his artworks has always been transparent: to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide and deliver new perspectives, injected with the beauty and richness of Armenian culture. 

Afrikyan takes this ideology “through artistic strategies based on the persistence of the traumatic past in the present; between what has happened and what could be comprehended; between an event and its reinterpretation.” He considers himself “an artist for a cause and part of the legacy of the Armenian people who have been fighting for the world to recognize the Armenian Genocide for over 100 years.” 

This combination changes our narrative. Armenians cannot progress by living for the pain, but we must use the pain to ignite the evolution of our country and people. Though it is still a battle to get the global recognition and the media attention that it deserved, it will not be a barrier to our success. This is accurately delivered in Afrikyan’s work through “the manipulation of materials (fiber, glass, plywood, felt, mixed media) and the deployment of visual metaphors within a strategy of non-linear, fragmented and overlapping narratives creates an interruption, a gap that complicates the narrative of melancholia and opens a point of entry into a world where they become somewhat new and different.” 

“It is a conversation with the past of highest historical significance,” explains Afrikyan. “It is a very difficult journey to the past synthesized through the context/content of my artistic emotional point of view. It is a reaction to the loss of an unprecedented scale that every Armenian in one way or another has been affected and has their personal story linked to, often untold.”

The Armenian-born artist is at the epicenter of the community in the UK. Afrikyan is a jack of all trades. He’s an ordained deacon serving the Armenian Church UK since 2011 and volunteers every week in the community. His passion and love for his country and people are clear. Afrikyan also serves the country that he is now living in, working for the UK’s National Health Service as Ward Administrator. Each of his many roles has one common denominator — helping others.

Admirers of Afrikyan’s artwork can become struck with an intense and thought-provoking mental progression. There are so many layers, embedded interpretations, and historic references. There are simultaneous feelings of loss and hope and mixed emotions that symbolize inherited trauma and the resilience of those that can continue the legacy of our people. 

His artistic practice is based on the exploration of using images and other mediums of documentation that showcase the contrasting experiences of a historical moment but share the same underlying foundations of deprivation. Afrikyan says he began to “realize the compulsion of responding to the notion of a historical event by reflecting and visualizing the traumatic happenings contemporary to the specific event, the Armenian Genocide, a compulsion to preserve loss by suspending and controlling time through space, suggestion, and allusion. The realization is processed in the context of my emotions, referring back to actuality, preserved in photographic or any other form of documentation.” 

“It opens up a possibility and provides space in the large sense of it for the viewers to reflect on the Armenian Genocide,” says Afrikyan. “It is an analytic approach which refers to a permanent state of questioning, of transformations, and an endless probing of appearances. The focus in this practice is to question and reconsider the impulse and especially the objective of representing the lost generation.”

The arts hold a crucial power to transport people to another dimension and frame of thought, something that Afrikyan devoutly embodies through his pieces. This power is a force for change and a chance to be part of an evolving society amid our many setbacks. As Armenians, we live with a never-ending ache combined with masses of dignity for the Armenian Genocide. The narrative must evolve to ensure our country and people flourish. The pain will never change, but the way we tell our story can.

by Lara Bazzoui

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