PODCAST: Gallery Girl Meets Varduhi Kirakosyan

In this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast we speak to Varduhi Kirakosyan, a researcher in Armenian embroidery. She is also an assistant curator at HAYP Pop Up Gallery and IN SITU art agency. 

Based in Yerevan, Varduhi has just graduated from the American University of Armenia where she began researching Armenian embroidery. Her interest started with material culture, with a passion for artefacts and local culture. “My aim was to see artefacts from a different perspective. Beyond a piece of cultural heritage”, she says, “To see what these objects hold and what memories they pass on. They record the lives of people through their materiality.” Embroidery is embedded in domestic life and the household, and Varduhi even comments on a subconscious connection through her great-grandmother, who used to embroider in Ottoman Turkey.

1 Varduhi Kirakosyan
Varduhi Kirakosyan

“I found embroideries have this domestic quality and are more accessible and available to everyone”, says Varduhi, “You can do it without any tools. With just your fingers.” Her research focuses more on the meanings that embroidery has for women, and she explains that there are many ways to categorise embroidery, whether that be through the location where they are most famous or by stitch. Many interpretations about the history of Armenian embroidery were told to Varduhi through interviews with Syrian-Armenian refugees, many of whom have routes in Ottoman Turkey, which had a large Armenian community prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915, with many settling in Syria. “The patterns they wove are like markers of a particular time in history which speak about their lives”, explains Varduhi, “Their everyday habits and their mental and spiritual state of being.”

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Marash embroidery by Terez Chirishian Der Sarkissian

Describing specific styles, Varduhi explains that embroidery from Marash is known for the incorporation of angels and crosses because those stitching them were trying to get closer to God after having suffered so many difficulties. “It was another way to find safety and protection”, she says, “It shows devotion to christianity, many crosses.” And, even the Marash stitch looks like a cross. “It was interesting to see it evolve as life got better”, adds Varduhi, “Lighter designs appeared, such as colourful flowers and ornaments.” Meanwhile, Aintab embroidery was traditionally done using silk thread on silk textiles. Motifs included many flowers, webs and a stair-like stitch. “Aintab was famous for its riches and gardens”, says Varduhi, “The stair stitches are to show that they have big houses with several stories.”

3 Dzovag Kantarjian-Ohanian’s Sivas embroidery
Dzovag Kantarjian-Ohanian’s Sivas embroidery

Speaking about embroidery in Armenia today, Varduhi explains that the Syrian-Armenians who came to Armenia following the crisis in Syria brought their embroidery with them, increasing the popularity of embroidery in Armenia. “As they moved here they brought this forgotten culture and revived it in a way”, she explains, “They started incorporating embroidered items on bags and clothing, doing different kinds of innovations and making it more accessible.”

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My great-grandmother’s Aintab embroidery

In continuing her research, Varduhi wants to do more research on the missionaries that worked with Armenian women following the Armenian Genocide. “There is a lot of information that isn’t really available and accessible about the orphanages and schools where they taught children to weave”, she explains, “There’s a lot to say about that. There is archival information that needs to be explored more about the input of these missionaries and how Armenian women digested it and what they got out of it. I don’t think they just copied. I think they mixed and integrated and I’m wondering what came out of it.”

And, in the future, Varduhi would also like to work with contemporary artists and perhaps even curate an exhibition. “I would like to do something with contemporary artists”, she says, “But also still keep some traditional colours and ideas there. To weave the old and the new experience together.”

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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