INTRO, DISCOVERY, RESEARCH, THERAPY, CONTENT AND PRINTING
Unbelievably, genocide continues today in Darfur with little or no interference to stop it. Before this, it was Cambodia, Rowanda, etc. The mental and physical suffering brought upon innocent people by despicable acts of evil by “human beings” that demonize, murder, rob, and rape countless innocent people, I don't think can be adequately expressed with words. Even though genocide is a comprehensible definition, the magnitude of the perpetrated act and its aftermath remains truly incomprehensible, beyond the possibility of any real expressive eloquence. For those who escaped death were changed forever. They lived in darkness when the sun was shinning. Their shadow followed them everywhere, always reminding them of how much they had lost, and how much they suffered despite their occasional laughter, and whatever social and financial success they were able to achieve.
My entanglement with family loss, pain, and remembrance began unexpectedly in 1994 when my girlfriend invited me along to her therapy session. She said she needed support. Comfortably seated, I listened passively to the sounds of their dialogue, and then without warning— the therapist turned to me, and said the unthinkable:
"You are the son of two surviving parents of the Armenian Genocide."
Momentarily stunned, tears uncontrollably slid down my cheeks in an emotional release, as if a secret place was opened up in me for the first time. The pain and suffering of my parents had surfaced in me. It was obvious, I needed to face the feelings of this dark lonely place I had instinctively suppressed decades ago, but had no one to talk to.
Monoprint: THE INVISIBLE SURVIVORS (40" h x 30" w)
The door had finally opened to face the extent of my long term sadness, and how the life of my parents had been drastically altered, I could not let it go. I had a duty to begin a personal search—revisiting the memory of my parents, examining their memorabilia, and regretting the many letters I destroyed when my mother died. The loss of those letters were so personally painful to me.
My printmaking focus on subject matter was changing as I read many well-documented histories of the Armenian genocide, which included places my parents escaped from with their broken lives. I examined maps, some showing the routes of mass murder; read first hand accounts of survivors, and looked over official telegrams received by the United States Government regarding this dark historic period— all of which contributed to strengthening my resolve to commit myself to what would become "My Printmaking Odyssey." Little did I know the Armenian Genocide would be a very emotional personal subject for me, much more than I could have anticipated.
Monoprint: FAMILY OF THREE (40" h x 30" w) converted to digital file, made into plates, and printed
I also discovered many photographs taken secretly in 1915. Diplomats and missionaries risked their lives to record an unbelievable dimension of horror unleashed against a helpless Armenian population considered by historians as the first large-scale genocide of the 20th century; a precursor to the Jewish Holocaust. I felt compelled to select some of these photo and elevate them to the status of historical icons, freeing them forever from their musty archival prisons. The 20th Century Madonna & Child is one of them.
I began this highly charged part of my printmaking journey in 1997 that linked me back to times and places beginning with the horror and trauma of my parents. Their sadness, fears, frustration, anger, nightmares, and alienation, readily found their mark on me, their only child— despite their guarded pain, protective silences, and my unanswered questions.
20th CENTURY MADONNA AND CHILD 13 Bleed Monoprint Framed 28.25" h x 21.25" w
The imagery needed to evolve to a large scale. Before I could engage in such an undertaking and imagery, I first had to overcome my fear of being drawn into a threatening scale of visually depicted horror. With therapy as a means of support and encouragement, I slowly gained confidence and strength. I still needed to figure out how to convert small photo reproductions I had selected into large scale formats for printing. The computer, scanner, and printer quickly came to mind as the tools needed.
I began by scanning small photo-reproductions that were often digitally enhance and augmented with specific effects, and printed out as black and white images on tabloid size paper. The laser copies were enlarged commercially to a very large scale, up to 3 1/2 feet by 5 1/2 feet that evolved over a three-year period, beginning in 1999. These were cut into sections for easy inking and handling. After transferring the image to acid free paper, the names of more than 60 cities, towns, and villages affected by the massacres and roundups were added in the margins. The names were typeset and reversed so they could be read as a memorial piece, in remembrance of those who once lived there, and perished at the hands of the Ottoman-Turkish government. Every name had a colored dot before it, symbolizing the marking of a historical place of an ancient people and culture. Lastly, the entire surface was overlaid with torn fragmented shapes of transparent colors, often intersecting one another while their colorful veil-like forms lay over a background of unbelievable brutality and horror.
20th Century Madonna & Child Bleed Monoprint 60:25 h x 42" w
Another set of powerful prints from my Anatomy of Genocide series is worth mentioning here. These monoprints were conceived to graphically utilize a human skull and its anatomical names as a means of expressing the magnitude of brutality, horror, and killing and its abject inhumanity soiling the goodness of all mankind.
The anatomical nomenclature was removed and replaced with Armenian cities. Each print required a total of four skulls to accommodate all the names. At a first glance the skulls seems to look as one expects marking various areas of the skull. It becomes surprisingly chilling when the viewer is jolted into realizing what is actually represented as one of the vilest manifestations of inhumanity.
These powerful unique prints were all a challenge to produce. They are unusually beautiful despite their horrific subject matter. They represent also a technical achievement in visually creating a forceful graphic truth—truly iconic, striking, and memorable as one of the vilest manifestations of inhumanity perpetrated against human beings.
John Avakian, November 26, 2006, Revised 2019
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Detail: ANATOMY OF GENOCIDE 1 Bleed Monoprint
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The First Large Scale Genocide of the 20th Century