Alexandra Karakashian

here they passed

18.10.18 – 24.11.18

CAPE TOWN

SMAC Gallery is pleased to present here they passed, a solo exhibition of new works by Alexandra Karakashian. In this exhibition, Karakashian employs unconventional materials within painting and installation to create an immersive space concerned with the loss of land and home. The works, which extend from the walls into the gallery space, reflect on current issues of exile and migration, investigating notions of mourning – both of an individual and collective nature – and the lamentation of those who have been ‘unhomed’.

The images created in here they passed are intended to evoke an imagined space beyond the cube they exist in, threatening instability and subtle collapse. Karakashian makes reference to Abstract Expressionist ‘colour field paintings’ – both in scale and intensity, conceived of a field that appears to spread beyond the edges of the surface. And yet, while the works transform the setting into a landscape for spiritual reflection, the viewer is simultaneously brought back to the material world and the material itself. Expanding on South African artist Penny Siopis’s proposal that “painting’s multiple possibilities for materiality and form can evoke intense emotional content”, Karakashian actively questions ideas of contemporary painting. Her experimental approach to choosing and manipulating the materials she works with affirms the conceptual possibilities of painting.

Located alongside the likes of Etel Adnan, Anna Boghiguian and Kitty Kraus – who share various histories of migration – Karakashian’s work exercises a vocabulary of form, reduced colour palette and the use of commonplace yet unconventional medium. In exploring notions of displacement, fragility and landscape, Karakashian’s choice of medium also emphasizes the very aliveness of the materials, as they hang suspended – alive and moving and polluting.

Karakashian’s interest in these themes is rooted in her engagement with her personal and family history. Her unique background details her grandfather Vache’s escape from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and his family’s migration south through the African continent, eventually settling in Johannesburg, South Africa. The artist is cognizant of her family’s journey that saw them circumventing certain death in Armenia via the Black Sea, to be resettled in Romania. The family of textile merchants later relocated to Egypt, where they began their prolonged passage via numerous African countries to the city of Johannesburg.

***

Direct transcript of Vache Karakashian’s unpublished autobiography, Johannesburg, 1980.

My name is Vache Karakashian (Karakaschev). I was born on the 7th December 1915 in Tireboli west of Trebizonde on the Black Sea.

The land was fertile.

They grew tobacco, cotton, sunflowers, hazelnuts, figs and lemons. The countryside was filled with aromatics shrubs and pomegranates.

My fathers name was Kriko. He was born in Tirebolu in 1875. His father Hampartzerle left him a small home industry of 30 wooden hand looms, complete with preparations, winders etc. using imported yarns in all colours. The hand woven materials were used particularly for veils–called yashmak–for bedspreads and other materials. Besides this small weaving plant he had a hazelnut plantation and most of it was exported to various countries.

My mothers name was Turvense born also in Tirebolu in 1885. Her family name was Kilidjian and her father was a Mustantig, which is equal to a magistrate and as such he was a very respected man.

My parents had six children, Sirvart, Hampartzum, Elise, Anstranig, Genevieve (who died at one years old) and me, Vache. From here my grandfather and his family has to run away and, as a result of continual Turkish massacres and eventually established a new home in Tresbizonde. Here they passed until 1915, the year of my birth.

I like however to relate my story only to my family as I was told over and over again by my father. A rapid and new wave of terror started everywhere – people were disappearing from homes, taken away and killed.

Woman and children remained behind and faced the tragedy of war, the war of 1915 – 1918. The victims were enormous, in big numbers of Armenians and Greeks. They were all in danger.

This was taking place all over old Armenia, orders of destruction were coming forward. According to these orders, all children who were orphans of recent events had to be exterminated.

All kind of tragedy was happening. All this period our family, including my grandparents, uncles and aunties with their children, in all 35 persons were killed in various places around Tresbizonde. My father’s cousin, who was a priest, was taken into the centre of a square in Tirebolu and, in front of his family he was killed by pulling back his nails and being completely butchered. His family then, wife and three children, having witnessed this, went home and committed suicide by setting their house on fire.

During this period my Father was able to arrange and hire a small rowing boat to run us into the Black sea. I was just born, a few days old. We started on this small boat, father, mother, grandchildren, two aunties with another three children. All fourteen human beings running away ­from murderers and taking refuge far away on the sea, direction nowhere.

Verbatim transcript with original grammatical errors included.