A group exhibition featuring 18 artists from the Armenian diaspora due to open at the Venice Biennale (9 May–22 November) will, says the Armenian government, commemorate 100 years since the mass killing of more than one million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War. In a controversial move, the exhibition in the national pavilion of Armenia, entitled Armenity (6 May–18 October), will also include four works by the Paris-based, Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis, who is representing Turkey at the biennial.
Armenity will be held on the San Lazzaro degli Armeni island, which is home to an Armenian Catholic monastery and is the headquarters of the Mekhitarist Order. Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg, the curator of the exhibition and founder of the non-governmental organisation Art for the World, said in a statement posted online: “In honour of the 100-year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Pavilion of the Republic of Armenia provided an occasion to rethink the notion of Armenianess and broaden this reflection to the concepts of identity and memory, justice and reconciliation, in the name of which many contemporary struggles are still taking place.”
The Armenian government says more than 1.5 million of its citizens were killed, or starved, when they were deported by Ottoman forces from Eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert in 1915. The centenary will be marked on 24 April, the date when Ottoman authorities began arresting Armenian community leaders in Istanbul.
The Turks have never accepted the term “genocide” but acknowledge that vast numbers of Christian Armenians died in conflict with Ottoman soldiers during the First World War, when Armenia was part of the empire ruled from Istanbul.
Sarkis will show four works in the Armenian pavilion including Danseuse dorée en haut du toit (2012) and Atlas de Mammuthus Intermedius (2014). The latter consists of a 150,000-year-old mammoth bone, incorporating the artist’s Swatch and Armenian lace. His work for the pavilion of Turkey, entitled Respiro, will be unveiled during the vernissage. “I hope that all the codes embedded in Respiro will offer openings and possibilities to revisit histories of humanity,” he says.
The artist tells The Art Newspaper that he has worked with von Fürstenberg on other projects since 1974. “I am fond of her idea of a constellation of artists from different parts of the world coming together [for Armenity]. I am also a teacher; I believe in new generations producing,” he says.
“It is very important for me to keep the
production going, for culture but also to keep the dialogue open. We are the
link between two pavilions. We are the breath. Whoever thinks otherwise is free
to think so, of course.”