Magazine Jul/Aug 2013 Visceral Impact

13 July 2013, 14:10
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Visceral Impact

It has become vitally important today to surround ourselves with art and to choose thoughtfully the artistic realm we want to be in – those places where we find solace and pleasure. However, every once in a while we come across a piece of art that transports us past sheer aesthetics into the world of emotional uncertainty – museum-quality artwork that is not always something you would want to hang on your wall or display in your home. Nevertheless, it is intentionally made to evoke an emotion or to create one. Once at a party, I heard a group of mostly women discussing sculptor Arewik Avakian’s body of work. They had gathered around one of the guests who was showing images on his laptop. Since most of the comments were critical, I decided to take a quick peek.

The sculptures were strange and off-putting. In one of the photos, a full-grown woman’s head is precariously balanced on the shoulders of a child’s body. This sad looking child/woman is topless with a mantle of fur draped over her shoulder. She is wrapped in a man’s extra-large oxford white shirt and stands on a chair in a pair of gigantic men’s work shoes.
The impact was visceral. All manner of mental disturbances ensued. Many of the women looking at the photos found Arewik Avakian’s work to be offensive and ugly. The disturbing juxtaposition of hopelessness and uncensored sadness made them uncomfortable, and yet they all had something to say, which was what caught my attention. In a genuine way, Avakian’s work was seething with power and force.
My own mind raced around the whole composition, trying to see it in 3D, rotating it and seeing it from different angles. But what I saw was my own captivity expanding inside this “ugliness” and isolation. The thought of being trapped as a woman in the body of a child touched some deeper part of me and made me cringe. I felt my own repulsion against circumstance – shrouded in the uniform of the male world, suppressed, weighted down and taught to be inferior. These concepts invaded my mind when I stared at the sculpture. No wonder the women around me were responding negatively! How hard it would be to walk in such shoes! Each step arduous – somehow worse than foot-binding, simply cruel and torturous, a heavy, eternal lift and shuffle gait at best. The chair that she stood upon to come up to shoulder height was a further embarrassment. It was a practical pedestal, and the sturdiness of its four legs promised to outlive this oddly ancient and fragile creature. The chair will survive her sadness. Her isolation can never touch it. She can only stand upon it forever trapped and locked away in a wax body.
For a long time, I couldn’t shake these images, as they definitely left their mark in my consciousness. So I contacted her in Holland where Arewik currently lives to get some answers.
A beautiful woman in her early forties was sitting in front of a large bookcase. Before long we both let our defenses down, and a touching conversation ensued in which Avakian shared some of the keys to understanding her work and its moods and attitudes.

Arewik Avakian was born and raised in Yerevan. After graduating from high school, she studied to be a linguist at the “department of brides,” as she likes to call it, in order to gain a diploma for her “dowry” and learn a few tips from her classmates on how to be a good wife. After all, many young men would flock by the Department of Humanities building in search of a cultured future wife. But her graduation and expected marriage did not work out in the intended fashion. Moreover, the Soviet powers collapsed and extreme poverty and the cold of several severe winters forced her to move to Holland in 1994.
She found a position as a translator and also started teaching yoga classes, but she still felt a gap in her life that she wanted to address. Art seemed like the path to take to fill that emotional need. She enrolled at the Den Bosch Academy of Art to explore and search for her style and voice. But instead of finding her place, she realized quickly that the current art trends appeared to be heavily based on male logic and rationality.
“Female qualities such as sensitivity and intuition are considered wrong. It’s like telling ourselves that we are not worth anything,” explained Avakian. She had a hard time while studying at Den Bosch academy as she was constantly being reprimanded for not following the rules and criticized for deviating from the preset guidelines and accepted styles.

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