From Models to Revolution
Honey Pump Meets Aram Kirakosyan
By Lizzy Vartanian Collier
On the 13th of April 2018, protests erupted in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Having originally begun weeks earlier on the 31st of March in Gyumri – the country’s second-largest city – these acts of civil disobedience marked the beginning of what has come to be known as The Velvet Revolution. Led by the now incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the nationwide protests took place in reaction to President-turned-Prime Minister Serzh Sargysyan’s third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in government. Having switched the nation’s constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary system in 2015, the two-term President assumed the role of Prime Minister despite earlier pledges to do the contrary.
During this period of political upheaval, the country came to a standstill. The protests started out as a march led by Nikol Pashinyan called Im Kayl (my step). Beginning in Gyumri, crowds swept through towns including Vanadzor and Dilijan, before arriving in Yerevan. While the protests were mostly peaceful, calls were made by Pashinyan for citizens of Armenia to take part in “acts of civil disobedience.” Chants spread across the nation calling for Serzh Sargysyan to resign, with the words: Merzhin Serzhin (reject Serzh) echoing around the breadth of Armenia. Simultaneously, protestors blocked entrances to government buildings and streets closed due to the sheer number of people calling for change. Crowds gathered in Republic Square nightly, and even students and children joined in. Instantly photographs appeared on social media of people dancing in the street, and of infants blocking roads with their toy cars. On 23rd of April, Sargysyan resigned, and on the 8th of May, Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister.
This period of political history was a particularly riveting time for Armenia’s photographers. They were given the chance to document momentous acts of Armenian history in real time. Photographer, Aram Kirakosyan – whose most recognizable work is full of models fragmented by mirrors in deserted, abandoned buildings – immediately picked up his camera to capture the events unfolding before his eyes. The results conjured the same mystical atmosphere as in his artistic explorations. “It was very exciting because I think that these pictures create the visual side of modern Armenian history”, he explains, “As a photographer, I’m always dealing with the same problem – light, composition…the difference is that when I take artistic images I can control the model, create some composition and set the light. When I shot documentary images during the Velvet Revolution, my photographs were mostly a reaction to everything that was happening around me. Because everything was changing so fast… I just react with my lovely weapon – my camera.” Aram’s images of the revolution include people wearing Armenian flags, men cheering on subway escalators and crowds waving political posters. Caught up in spontaneity he used buildings, walls, escalators, and car window to achieve a familiar fragmentation to focus attention towards specific moments. The photographs embody the energy that was palpitating through the streets of Yerevan as the Revolution ebbed and flowed with the nervous excitement of removing one Prime Minister and securing the position of another.
Aram’s documentary images of revolution and unrest, however, are contextually different from the rest of his work. The revolutionary photographs are full of life, vitality and an urgent sense of a real need for change. The rest of his work carries a ghostly quality, with a sense of mystery lingering throughout his oeuvre. Aram’s photographs tend to focus on the, often she is alone, but sometimes other women accompany her. What makes the way these women have been photographed so captivating, is how their bodies have become fragmented by the inclusion of a mirror or a piece of fabric that splinters her body, distorting it, so we look at her through an angle we would never have thought to look through before. Sometimes lace is included, or even the wired texture of a tennis racket is held in front of her face, causing the viewer to zoom in on the beauty of the feminine visage. “Using mirrors for me is like escaping reality. Mirrors are like a window to an alternative world”, explains Aram, “For example when I shoot a model using 4 or 5 mirrors, sometimes there are so many reflections that I can’t realize where there is a realness.” This presence of mirrors in Aram’s work produces images where legs appear back-to-front; limbs are elongated across three surfaces and sparkling blue eyes rest on delicate hands.And while this sounds like the description of a tortured beauty in a horror film, Aram’s photographs are gentle, capturing his models under a sympathetic, affectionate and beguiling light.
Aram’s work could be likened to that of late American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose black and white images show women in locations that appear very similar to Aram’s, with their faces blurred or obscured. That said, Aram’s inspirations are vast. He cites artists from across the canon as muses on his work, including Michelangelo, Rothko, Durer, Basquiat, but also including photographers Josef Koudelka, Duane Michals, Georgui Pinkhasov and Jeff Wall. He began making photographs in 2013 explaining that: “There is no right answer for a question about why I make my work. The only answer for me is that, right now, photography is more a way of living than work.”
For emerging artists like Aram, living and working in a country like Armenia, where the art market is very young art, could be seen as an impediment to their work. “I don’t think the problem is galleries”, he explains, “Because we have some galleries and a little bit of a fashion industry. The problem is that Armenia has a very small market for artists to sell their work.” That said, Aram is positive about the future for the Arts post-Velvet Revolution Armenia, acknowledging that there are a lot of opportunities for online submissions. And, on the future of his own photography practice, he says: “I plan to develop my skills as a photographer by experimenting in new styles and technology, I hope to stay ahead of the curve by continuing to refine my craft and eventually contribute something new to the field of photography.”