by Anna Gargarian, HAYP Pop Up Gallery
The idea for “New Illuminations” took root in the creative mind of artist, Suzi Banks Baum back in March of 2016 during her first visit to Armenia. Suzi was among a group of photojournalists who were invited by National Geographic photographer, John Stanmeyer, as well as Anush Babajanyan and Nazik Armenakyan of 4Plus Photography, to come to Armenia for several weeks with a storyline.
Suzi’s storyline: what are the realities faced by women artists in Gyumri, Armenia? What are the thresholds and challenges they encounter in their creative practice?
Her trip to the Matenadaran, Armenia’s manuscript museum, left her awestruck and inspired, especially as a book artist. After learning about Armenia’s rich history of manuscript making and preserving, she expected to find many book artists. But she found none.
Suzi conducted a series of interviews for journalistic inquiry into the lives of these women artist. She made strong connections with the artists she met: she learned about their lives and the struggles they live with daily to carve out time to make their work while also fulfilling the strong expectations that their families and society places on them. She found herself introducing the artists to one another. The more she dug, the more she felt that there was a need for a more close-knit community of women artists.
The two jarring insights I had-that the women were not familiar with the book arts and that they did not have a community among them- really made me consider how I might offer some of the skills I have, the themes of sisterhood and book making that I teach, of writing our personal stories and making work from our lived experience as women, as family members…
As a teacher, Suzi has dedicated much of her work to building communities, particularly amongst women. Through creative practice, she aims to empower women by giving them new tools of expression to make their voices heard.
From all of these meaningful encounters and conversations, came the idea of a workshop that would teach a group of women artists how to make handmade books, while also engaging in story sharing, writing, and illustration.
Story is one way we heal communities torn by shame, sorrow and loss. Story is one way we connect to our histories, to our families and to the world. To me, making books that we will write in to, this gives each maker a sense of direction that can take them to new and exciting places in their work.
Suzi had heard of HAYP Pop Up Gallery, Armenia’s first and only pop-up gallery, through the founders and photographers of 4Plus Photography. Anush and Nazik had participated in HAYP’s spring exhibition “Lips of Pride” which explored women’s sexuality within societal perceptions of shame in Armenia. The exhibition showcased all women artists, and featured works in various media including photography, installation, video art, painting, and interactive pieces that reflected on women’s personal embodied experiences.
In search of collaborators who valued women’s voices, HAYP seemed like a natural fit for Suzi’s work, and in July of 2016, Suzi and Anna Gargarian of HAYP Pop Up Gallery finally connected.
After many Skype conversations the project evolved into a much greater vision. Together, Suzi and Anna imagined a three-part project that includes 1) interviews and research, 2) a workshop and teaching experiences, and finally 3) an exhibition. The project will begin in Gyumri, and then will move onto other cities across Armenia.
HAYP introduced Suzi to Karine Vann, their in-house graphic designer (remember the graphics for IN-MOTION, ԽՈՍՔԻ-Slam, and Lips of Pride?) to graphically render the New Illuminations project. Inspired by a drawing that Suzi saved from a Gyumri artist named Tatev, along with guidance from Suzi and Anna, Karine came up with the New Illuminations logo.
Karine’s designs for previous HAYP projects.
Next, Anna got in touch with Areg Kozmoyan, HAYP’s go-to filmmaker and photographer for HAYP events, in order to put together a promotional video. Suzi filmed long distance with the help of dear friends Jake Borden and Lynette Lucy Najimi. Areg and Anna travelled around Yerevan and Gyumri for city shots, and put together a storyboard and montage. The HAYP team finally put all of the video footage, content, and images on this “New Illuminations” wordpress platform, to keep the info all in one place.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Ocean, Suzi has been working hard to promote the project, fundraising efforts, and spread the word through supporting organizations like WAM theatre, which offered her a grant to cover a portion of the funds for the project.
Now, as the month of September is coming to an end, but New Illuminations is just taking off, Suzi and Anna are excited to finally meet in person! For those who are in Massachusetts, you’re invited to join the team for a presentation of the project on Thursday, September 29 at 6pm at The Unicorn Theatre at 6 East Street, Stockbridge, MA 01262. Wine and cheese will be served, followed by the play “The Bakelite Masterpiece” (get tickets here).