University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
chgs@umn.edu
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CHGS

Robert Barsamian

Robert Barsamian is a Dallas based artist of Armenian descent, who during the 1980s decided to work through the questions of the Armenian genocide through art. The process has been time-consuming and obsessive, but also rewarding. Barsamian, like many 2nd and 3rd generation Armenian-Americans, deals with a past, as in the Holocaust, was hidden by the victim generation. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that Armenians began to speak openly about the massacres of 1915-1922, now referred to my most academics and some governments as a "Genocide." Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the word "genocide" became interested in the subject because of the stories he heard from his mother and grandmother, in his native Poland in the early 1970s, about the destruction of the Armenians.

Barsamian had attained commercial success for his largescale drawings and paintings of underwater swimmers before being mugged and shot in Dallas in 1986. That incident, together with his mother and grandmother's increasing openness about their experiences, caused him to focus upon the Armenian diaspora in his artwork.

Barsamian raises the important question: Can art help in understanding the history, the memory and the trauma?

Artist's Statement

"As a survivor of a violent armed robbery eleven years ago in Dallas, I began to identify with the victimization of my Armenian ancestors. Luco, my grandmother, spoke often of Armenia, the life she had there, and her story of survival. My mother was also a survivor.

These two women are the storytellers in my life and their stories have informed my art. I use symbolic images to represent the Turks, the Armenians, the atrocities, and the hope and strength of the culture."

- Robert Barsamian

Artwork: Absence/Presence

"The Story of Luco." Room installations. Size varies. 1989-90.

The Story of LucoNestled among the mountains in the biblical land of Mount Ararat lies the village of Adana, home of my Armenians ancestors. It is a little known fact that catastrophic atrocities happened to these peaceful people not so very long ago. But, this is one story that has haunted me my entire life. This is my grandmother Luco's story, a survivor of the Armenian genocide. It was a beautiful summer day, warm flower-scented breezes passed softly through the villages in the valley. Luco and a few friend walked to the nearby fields to play and to hunt for birds for the evening's meal. In long sweet grass they lay with layers of petticoats lifted over their heads, as they scattered seeds and Room installationscrumbs on their bellies. They waited in silence, giggling in anticipation. Silence-or they would not eat. The call of birds grew louder and clearer. Luco remembered when she felt their feet landing on her stomach. First one then two! How wonderful! Not yet. Now- Quickly! Down came the petticoats with a mastered movement over her catch. Triumphantly, the bird hunter returned. Luco's mother greeted her with a smile and warm embrace. She praised her for the catch she had brought home. Arm in arm they walked towards the kitchen. Thunder clapped in the distance. A look of fear came, for it wasn't a harbinger of rain - it was the thundering of horses' hooves approaching the village.
SRoom installationstories of torture and death at the hands of the Turkish soldiers in the Northern villages had been heard. Grabbing Luco, she ran to the outhouse and pushed her beloved daughter down into the defecation and urine, telling her not to move or make a sound. It was the only place to hide and there was a chance the Turks would not find her. Children's screams filled the air and Luco's mother ran to the square to help. Her eyes filled with tears as she helplessly watched as children's hands were bound and brutally hacked off. In sport they forced the bleeding children to run from the village. A pile of severed hands was all that remained of the innocents. Luco's mother desperately sought a means to save her daughter. When an Armenian division of French troops came to the village, marriage arrangements were made in haste for 16 -year old Luco. Luco gave birth to my mother in the year 1918. Soon after the small family escaped via France to Room installationsAmerica. The Armenian people have suffered an injustice for 75 years. On April 24, 1915 three-quarters (1.5 million) of the Armenian people - men, women and children - were systematically and mercilessly murdered by the Turkish Government. As you read this statement the Turkish Government is pressuring the American Government to deny Armenian-Americans the right to declare, through an Act of Congress, that such atrocities ever occurred. The Turks have stated they will not allow access to vital military bases if America recognizes the official date of remembrance, April 24th. The Armenian genocide and its aftermath led Hitler to cite it as precedent for his own crime against the Polish and Jewish people. On August 22, 1939 Hitler declared: I have ordered my death unites to exterminate without mercy or pity men, women, and children belonging to the Polish-speaking race. It is only in this manner that we can acquire the vital territory which we need. After all, who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?

 

"Three Messages." Mixed media installation. Detail, left view. 8'x30'. 1990.

Room installationsRoom installationsbird alphabet painting

Far right: Bird Alphabet Painting on Wall. 4' x 3'6". 1990.

"After All ..." Mixed media installation. Detail. 12'x30'. 1990.

After All...After All...After All...

"In the heat of the desert they fed upon the children." Mixed media installation. Size varies.

In the heat of the desert they fed upon the children
"In the heat of the desert they fed upon the children" Mixed Media Installation. 66.25' x 120". 1991.
Pomegranates & Wolves
"Pomegranates & Wolves" Mixed Media Installation. 81" x 208". 1991.

 

"This is My Body." Mixed media installation. 72 x 84. 1993.

Pomegranates & WolvesPomegranates & WolvesPomegranates & WolvesPomegranates & Wolves

"21 Border Street." Mixed media installation. 78 x 114. 1993.

21 Border Street21 Border Street21 Border Street21 Border Street

"Motherland." Mixed media installation.  1993. Size Varies.

MotherlandMotherlandMotherland

"Something Remembered Is Never Forgotten." Mixed media installation. 1993.

MotherlandMotherlandMotherland

"Passage." Mixed media installation. 12' x 10' x 4'. 1994.

PassagePassagePassagePassage

"Ashfall." Room installation. Size varies.

Ashfall
Title Piece of Installation. 68" x 90" x 6". With Shelf Jars. 1996-97.
Ashfall
"Demitasse". Detail of "Ashfall." Mixed Media Installation. 35" x 46" x 6". 1996-97.
Ashfall
"My Father's Mother Remembered". Detail of "Ashfall". Mixed Media Installation. 56" x 48" x 6" w/shelf. 1996.
Ashfall
"The Promise". Detail of "Ashfall". Mixed Media Installation. 34" x 38" x 2" with table. 1996-97.
The Promise
Installation Shot
ashfall detail
"And If..." Detail of "Ashfall." Mixed Media Installation. 60" x 80" x 6". Bronze cross with shelf. 1996-97.

 

 

"Road to Aleppo." Mixed Media Installation. 1998.

Road to AleppoRoad to AleppoRoad to Aleppo

Road to AleppoRoad to Aleppo

road to allepoRoad to AleppoRoad to AleppoRoad to Aleppo

Road to Aleppo


Angels of Mercy


The Herald

Fields of Play

Beneath the Blessing

Flight of the Innocent

Guardian

Harvest

The Last Thread

The Virgin Bride

Valor

Undo Influence

Whispering