Krikor Momdjian @ Pembroke College, Oxford

Պիտի տեսնես թէ մարդիկ ինչպէս կը շարժին You will see that people move around

կը տեղափոխուին, աշխարհն սեպելով իրենց տունը change places, considering the world their home

սեփականութիունը բոլորին, մէջն ազատօրէն շրջելու owned by all, freely to move about

– excerpt from Վերաձեւում, Transformation by Krikor Momdjian, 2015

A Lebanese-born Armenian who resides in Holland has been invited to Oxford. Visual artist and poet Krikor Momdjian was brought to the city by the college’s fellow in Armenian studies, Prof. Theo Maarten van Lint, with whom he collaborated to translate his Armenian poetry into English. A selection of his painterly oeuvre is also now on view at the college gallery.

Momdjian’s art and poetry is a response to his life growing up in diaspora. Following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, there are more ethnic Armenians outside of Armenia than inside the country itself. This incident has been the defining event on which contemporary Armenians form some kind of identity. Often, this can manifest into anger or sadness. Armenians are often accused of being unable to ‘let go’ of a historic episode that happened more than a century ago and in many cases this visually manifests itself in the artwork of diasporan Armenians. Momdjian’s work is not like that however. He has explained that his work is about ‘unity’, it is not purely just the Armenian cause that is present, but a global sense of togetherness. In the centre of the gallery is a table set for dinner. The artist has explained that this is ‘a metaphor for communication as people sit next to each other.’ There are no place names, you could almost sit anywhere.

This sense of unity and togetherness is present throughout. One painting is made up of a variety of brightly coloured squares, stuck together. Perhaps this could be to symbolise community amongst people of all different backgrounds and circumstances. Being someone who has lived in many countries (Lebanon, France, Netherlands), Momdjian has had to adapt to new environments. The most poignant piece for me was ‘Portraits’, a group of 18 paintings of heads grouped together. Some of these faces had writing on, in different languages including both Armenian and English – two sets of alphabets that are so different from one another, yet side by side, as though part of the same pack.

The Armenian influence is apparent throughout. Among the works on display are pomegranates and works dedicated to ‘Hagop’ – I have not yet learnt who Hagop is, but being half-Armenian, I can tell you that Hagop is a very Armenian name.

Momdjian is also very connected to the natural world. I have already mentioned the pomegranates, but there are also impressions of the moon on show and landscapes dedicated to the four seasons.

It is clear that while Momdjian draws from his Armenian heritage, his art seeks to go beyond to respond to all of humanity. While his Oxford show is small, it speaks volumes. I also urge anyone able to attend the exhibition to read his poetry in the accompanying book to better understand the link between image and language.

Krikor Momdjian: Salt Room Wanderings is on display at Pembroke College, Oxford until 25 November

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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