The Artists of Gyumri

Gyumri had always been a depressing city for me. It is a destroyed city, full of sadness, everything and everyone reminding you, not letting you forget about the tragedy that occurred there. The buildings are crumbled, half standing, half destroyed. The people all have a loved one who died during the ’88 earthquake. And worse, I always felt more alien, more of a stranger there. The dialect is different. The boys all stare while chewing away sunflower seeds. There is a dark cloud over the city, over the rubble, but it is with those broken pieces that I saw new city being built from the ashes of destruction.

I met the artists, the craftsmen, who sheltered, hiding behind stone walls and faded wood doors, still scream for recognition, expressing themselves, the hearts and souls into their art. It’s therapy, they are surrounded by decoy and destruction, by false promises and the lies of politicians. They seek truth through art, through theater, dance, song, poetry, pottery, they build. And the new city cannot be built through speeches, signatures, and foreign aid alone. It takes brute force, the physical labor of many hands, blood, sweat, muscle, and bone, move the brick and mortar to build the foundation for a brighter city, as the dark cloud dissipates dropping its cleansing rain, to wash away the dirt and grime of the past. My experience of Gyumri this time was only positive. People recognized me from TV, they came and took photos, congratulated me, and told me to keep going.

I saw beautiful painting in Gyumri, and one collage stands out. At the Chalet restaurant and hotel, a colorful work of bright red, yellows, and blue, and recognized it as an iconic style of the region. My journey North took me to the village where the art form was made famous. Visiting the museum and seeing his work portraying life in Armenia was like seeing my past three months, my journey on canvas. Avetisyan’s work portrays the Armenian countryside, the simple life, working in fields, living in villages, near the factories, and all in bold swathes of color, shaded with hues in between.