Armenian American photographer Aram Jibilian recently shot this great photograph of New York critic and curator Neery Melkonian for an article slated to be published in April.
A fresh take on Arshile Gorky‘s iconic “Artist and His Mother” series, it reverses and questions some of the power dynamics in the original pre-Armenian Genocide image. Jibilian imagines Neery as Gorky’s mother at a more assertive moment. I’ve posted only the central image in a triptych entitled, “Go die, come back, I’ll love you: (Un)Becoming an Icon,” which is a play with an old Armenian saying: “Knah mernir, yegoor sirem” (meaning literally “Go die, Come [let me] love you”).
Two paintings based on this 1912 photo exist: one at the Whitney, and the other at the National Gallery in DC. Egoyan fixated on this same image in his film “Ararat” (as did Gorky during his lifetime) but Aram has some fascinating insights into the image and the resulting paintings:
…in his iconic “The Artist and His Mother” paintings…Why did he abstract only their hands in this way? Are they powerless? Are they victims? The mother’s body seems to become the negative space of the painting; is her memory fading from his consciousness? Is the suffering fading from his consciousness? Trauma sometimes fuels a need to move on, to create a new and “greater” self that can perhaps disassociate from the past of its former self—Vosdanig Adoian becomes Arshile Gorky.
Jibilian erases the muteness of the original photograph and infuses it with a feminine strength. He goes on to outline Neery’s own insights into Armenian identity which are poignant but rather unpopular things to say in our global Armenian culture:
Melkonian also observes how “Gorky displacing himself” contains an element of self-denial. Armenians know much about denial and dealing with its ramifications: Armenians who deny their ethnicity in order to obtain economic progress or to circumvent glass ceilings in host societies; Armenians obsessed with the denial of the genocide by the current Turkish government whose legitimacy depends on the supply of proofs of our own death, or more accurately, of our non-existence; Armenians who insist that only certain notions of Armenian-ness are valid and that multiplicity or changing fixed notions can only lead to the demise of Armenian identity.
Thank you to Neery & Aram for allowing me to reproduce a wonderful image that spoke to my soul immediately.
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