The horror

‘The Armenian Genocide: 95 Years Later’
By GREG COOK  |  April 22, 2010

ANXIOUS ENERGY A painting by Kevork Mourad.

In April 1915, Turks of the Ottoman Empire began killing the Armenians in their midst. Soldiers rounded up hundreds of Armenian clergy, intellectuals, and members of parliament. Many were shot. Other Armenians were “deported” — forced to march or packed into trains, without food or shelter, across mountains and desert to concentration camps. The empire was crumbling and Turks apparently feared the growing strength and nationalism of the Armenian community.

News reports told of torture; crucifixions; rapes; a thousand men, women and children burned to death inside a locked building; dozens of Armenians tied together and thrown into a lake to drown. To this day Turkey does not acknowledge the extent of the killing, but some 1.5 million Armenians perished.

Berge Ara Zobian, owner of Gallery Z in Providence, has assembled works by more than 40 artists in “The Armenian Genocide: 95 Years Later, In Remembrance,” at the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus (80 Washington Street, through April 30). It’s an important subject, deserving serious attention, but the art is disappointingly amateurish, ranging from overwrought goth to cutesy folk to late Cubism.

There are exceptions, like striking posters done in the blocky bold style of Soviet agitprop. One marking the 65th anniversary in 1980 shows a soldier with a rifle rising from flames held in giant hands. It reads, “A crime unpunished is a crime encouraged.” A 1975 poster shows a stylized nude woman holding a rose and flame. It says, “World owes justice to Armenians.” Unfortunately the show offers little information about the works, leaving it unclear who made them and whether they’re originals or reproductions.

Painters and sculptors here struggle with the weight of history, resulting in too many clichéd howling hollow-eyed figures. At the better end of this stuff is Stephen Koharian’s nightmare scene of a skeletal woman kneeling next to a skeletal baby in some dungeon. But his expressionist horrors feel too affected to be deeply moving.

The painters do better with more personal works, like Kevork Mourad’s abstract painting from the series Fireflies Over the Euphrates. Mourad divides the painting into a drippy pale green band at top and larger rectangle of blue at the bottom, suggesting land and water. Swirling black calligraphic lines (perhaps referencing Arabic script) atop an ochre cloud float across the blue with a tumbling, anxious energy. Emma Grigoryan’s painting Self-Portrait is a head and shoulders abstracted into sinewy swirls of orange and gold. It has the movement and meatiness of the early work of the late Boston painter Hyman Bloom.

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