Watertown artist on display with “Family Pictures” exhibition

Source: Wicked Local Watertown 
By Bethel Charkoudian


The confluence of cultures, white and black, ancient and present day Armenian, are represented in the Art of Susan Kricorian. Her childhood with her grandmother, her hours in her grandmother’s garden, her hours in the Armenian Brethren Evangelical church, her favorite hymn “This Little Light of Mine” sit in sharp contrast with her present day life in a 4th floor apartment on 140th St, in NYC where there’s no back yard, there’s no place to go, only little window boxes.

It is in this little apartment that Kricorian does her painting and as is often the case, the space defines her painting.

“When i was in art school, I took lots of painting classes, but I primarily worked in oils. I had a studio over on the Fenway at the Museum school,” Kricorian said. “I painted very large scale, we were required to, they wanted you to use your whole body, you’d use six by ten foot canvases, really big. It was really interesting but very expensive.”

When she moved to NYC with $200, not knowing how she would fit her art supplies, Kricorian had to change to a smaller format, and non-caustic paints.

“Thus the watercolors,” she said.

Susan brings light to a sometimes-dark past and present. Growing up in a two family house on Walnut Street in the heart of Watertown, Massachusetts, her grandmother Mari was “ever-present”, to use Kricorian’s words.

Her paternal grandmother, Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian, was born in Mersin, Cilicia in the Ottoman Empire. In the late summer of 1915, she and her family were deported from Mersin as part of what would later come to be called The Armenian Genocide, the mass deportation and murder of the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

“My grandmother’s parents and her two sisters died en route, and she and her brother found themselves among 8000 Armenian orphans in a desert refugee camp near the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain,” Kricorian said. “From there they were transferred to a Turkish orphanage in Istanbul, and later they made their way back to Mersin where they found a surviving uncle who took them to Cyprus.”

While in Cyprus, her grandmother met her grandfather, who had traveled from his adopted home in Watertown, Massachusetts to Cyprus in a search for an Armenian bride. Kricorian’s grandfather, Levon Krikorian, 19 years older than her grandmother, offered to bring her to the United States.

She accepted his offer. They married in Cairo, Egypt, travelled through Ellis Island and settled in the Armenian community of Watertown.

According to Kricorian, she grew up surrounded by love, the love of her family, the love of the garden which surrounded her home, the garden in which she steeped herself.

“We had a big bed of Irises and I would lay in the Iris bed with carrots and pretend I was a rabbit for long periods of time. We had two big forsythia bushes that created an arc and you could go underneath inside and have like a little fake fire pit and we would collect berries from the bushes,” she said. “We had a peach tree and a Bartlett pear tree, Asian pear tree, a huge vegetable garden — the parsley, the tomatoes, peas and whatever cucumbers that we would go outside and pick for dinner.”

Kricorian’s grandmother would always be busy in the kitchen and her whole house would smell like manta and lamejun and kufte and baklava.

“My grandmother Mari was always cooking,” she said. “I loved to help her. My favorite was manti. We would squeeze them into little canoes.”

Those manti, Kricorian’s favorite food memory, appear in many of her paintings.

Aside from scenes from childhood, many of Kricorian’s paintings incorporate two cultures: black and Armenian.

The iconic image of a woman ostensibly dancing an Armenian solo dance with her hands raised above her head, her face black, her costume Armenian, the title of the painting, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”, suggests a parallel between the black experience in the United States with the Armenian experience in the early 20th Century Ottoman Empire.

Gary Lind-Senanian, curator at the Armenian Museum of America, noted that many of the symbols in Kricorian’s paintings are taken from Armenian mythology, symbols such as the Aklatiz highlighted in a painting that could be an illustration in a book of fairy tales.

“She uses much symbolism in her paintings,” said Lind-Senanian. “For example, in her painting the “Nativity Scene”, there is the symbolism of the circle and the triangle — sacred geometry — and multiple eyes. The figures in the painting have black faces.”

Lind-Senanian also pointed out a painting Kricorian completed in 1993, in which half the angels are black, half are white.

An exhibit of Susan Kricorian’s paintings entitled “Family Pictures” are currently on display at the Armenian Museum of America, 65 Main St., Watertown.

Article can be found here: http://watertown.wickedlocal.com/news/20160215/watertown-artist-on-display-with-family-pictures-exhibition/?Start=2