Armenian Journey reveals artistic response of earthquake survivors at York Minster

By Culture24 Staff
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A picture of three people sitting in front of a piece of art

Work by Armenian artist Arsen Asatryan (above, right) and Northumberland painter Mick Oxley (left), who met at an art school in the earthquake rehabilitation zone of Spitak, has gone on display at York Minster alongside huge prints by Anglo-Armenian Karen Babayan

Exhibition: An Armenian Journey, York Minster, York, until September 7 2009

Twenty-one years after a major earthquake devastated the Armenian town of Spitak, a moving series of responses by a trio of artists to life in the region today will go on display in the West Nave of the imposing Minster at York.

At least 25,000 people were killed in the disaster, and Spitak remains a designated earthquake rehabilitation zone today. A creative college, the Family Care Veratsnund Art School, was formed with the aim of providing creating therapy and skills for children and young people living at the school, and two of the exhibitors featured met at the centre, which continues to play a key part in the area’s recovery.

A picture of an oil painting of a coastal scene

Oxley has combined paintings from Armenia with ones from the Northumberland coastline. Pic: Tony Griffiths

Northumberland-based landscape painter Mick Oxley has mentored Spitak counterpart Arsen Asatryan, who was housebound for seven years after being paralysed in the earthquake, since the pair were introduced at workshops Oxley ran at the School during a three-week support project in 2006.

"It was a fantastic experience working with Mick," says Asatryan, having visited his oil canvasses and hard carvings of biblical scenes at the opening in York.

"We created a good rapport as artists and developed a great working ethic which turned into a special friendship.

A picture of a man standing in a cathedral

York Minster provides a "breathtaking backdrop" for the pieces, says Oxley. Pic: Tony Griffiths

"I can't believe it's really happening to me – being able to exhibit my work in such a heavenly place."

Oxley's made 25 acrylic pieces for the show, contrasting views from the Art School with studies of the Northumbrian shoreline.

A picture of an oil painting of a coastal scene

Oxley takes inspiration from changing coastal landscapes. Pic: Tony Griffiths

"I found the whole encounter one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," he reflects, describing the "unique spirit" of the Spitak artists.

"I learned about people who were dignified, generous and brave in the face of adversity and hardship. I feel during my short time in Armenia I was able to leave behind a positive legacy."

A picture of a man sitting next to a painting of the sea in a cathedral

The show is the result of an intense three-week series of workshops in Spitak as part of a project to support creative therapy in the town. Pic: Tony Griffiths

Oxley says their efforts feel "almost humble" against the backdrop of the Minster, but the vast setting suits Leeds artist Karen Babayan’s huge visual collages.

The Iran-born artist has taken nine digital prints from a century of photographs of her Anglo-Armenian family, hanging them in the form of a map of Persia using silks traded by Armenian merchants during their nomadic history.

A picture of a woman sitting in front of a colourful biblical painting in a cathedral

Babayan explores diasporan Armenian identity in colourful style. Pic: Tony Griffiths

"I want people to take away an understanding of the diversity of cultures and religions past and present that live in Iran and the rich cultural exchange that goes on between East and West," says Babayan, who moved to the UK following the Islamic Revolution in 1978 before studying art at Leeds and Nottingham.

"This is manifested in the Armenian community itself, to serve as a contrast to the oppositional politics that is always put out by the media."

Open 9am-5pm (12pm-3.45pm Sunday). Admission £6/£5 (free for under-16s), call 0844 939 0011.

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