By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN — Ani Babaian held her first solo exhibition of paintings in New England, called “The Spectrum of a Legacy,” at the Adele and Haig Der Manuelian galleries of the Armenian Museum of America. The opening took place on May 15, and the exhibition will continue until July 3. There were 35 works (in all 45 pieces) displayed. Approximately 60 people were present at the opening, including visitors from New York and Montreal.
Babaian gave a brief talk at the opening, and spoke about her interests as a painter. She declared that growing up in New Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, Iran, she was surrounded by mosques, synagogues, churches and temples, as well as gardens and mansions. These surroundings, she said, “to me represented a dialogue among civilizations.”
Babaian obtained a Master of Fine Art degree from Alzahra University in Tehran, where she wrote her thesis titled, “Mutual Influences: New Julfa and Isfahan Mural Paintings of the 17th Century.” In Iran she worked on many restoration projects, including that of the murals of St. Amenaprkich Vank in New Julfa, and studied and taught art history. She moved to Massachusetts in 2010 after marrying Saro Khachikian and in 2013 joined the staff of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). She is responsible for the cataloguing of the NAASR Mardigian Library.
Babaian has participated in solo and group exhibitions of her paintings in Iran, Armenia and the US (Lowell, Lexington and Watertown in Massachusetts). The most recent one prior to this exhibition was in New York. It was called “Animating the Word: The Legacy of Iran’s Minority Calligraphic Traditions,” at the Tally Beck Contemporary Gallery. Her works appeared last year in the group exhibits “Pursuing Justice through Art 2015” at the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell and “The Armenian Genocide: A Silent Testimony” at the Armenian Museum of America.
Babaian said that her personal style of painting is “defined by my identity, thoughts, personal experiences, and the beauty around me.” Some of her paintings include Armenian letters, which were inspired by murals in Isfahan. She has depicted trees, the symbol of life, and ancient beliefs and traditions, including fortune telling, in paintings.
She recently was affected by the recurrence of fighting in Mountainous Karabagh, and this in turn moved her to depict the “innate strength of unity, survival and defense” of the Armenian homeland. She depicted tombstones from Artsakh, and women bearing arms on their side in a posture of strength and courage. She exhorted the audience, saying “Like them, let us look to the future, continue to defend our legacy, and move on.
Babaian thanked her husband, Saro Khachikian, for his support and patience, the Armenian Museum of America with all its staff and leaders for providing her with this opportunity, colleagues at NAASR and Shushan Teager for encouragement and help, and Tally Beck of TB Gallery in New York for advice and guidance.
Babaian later said that when she began painting as a child, she was most strongly influenced by art books that she saw in her family home from Soviet Armenia. She particularly liked the colors used by Minas Avetisyan, for example. Armenian miniature painting and the art in the Armenian churches of New Julfa also were important for her.