I consider artists Berj Kailian and Sam Bak Artists at War pioneers – and invite you to start your journey of Artists at War with their interviews.
As survivors of the last century’s first and second holocausts, their art is testament to their nations’ narrative of annihilation. They are witnesses of atrocities that robbed them of their families, loved ones, homes, cultural base, and homeland -- and scarred them for a lifetime.
In March 2005, I curated an exhibition of works by Kailian and Bak titled "Survival Through Creativity" at the Haley Art Gallery in Kittery, Maine. The collection of selected works by the two artists reflected their lives as survivors of the 20th century's holocausts – and the exhibition coincided with the 90th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the 60th anniversary of the Jewish Holocaust.
Kailian was 90 and Bak 72. It took a lot of convincing before Kailian agreed to be part of the exhibit. At 90 she thought no one would want to "pay attention" to her works, but she was eventually convinced. Kailian's works had already been exhibited and in permanent collections across U.S. and Europe - including the Armenian Library and Museum of America, Bank America International, Digital Equipment Corporations, Museum of Modern Art (Armenia) and Armenian State Museum of Fine Arts.
Kailian's stark, bold colorful abstract paintings married well with Bak's detailed, symbolic testimonials.
The exhibit was a major success in the seacoast region of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts - and received wide media coverage by numerous outlets both regional and national. It attracted visitors from all walks of life -- it educated, informed and left long-lasting impressions on the viewers. While most knew of the Jewish Holocaust they were unaware of the Armenian Genocide and the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire during WWI against 1.5 million Armenians. Although the exhibit presented works of such somber topics, the vibrant colors were testaments of determination and survival – it offered traces of trauma that transcended death and loss to defy the objectives of the perpetrators. The artists’ survival allowed them to capture and retell the atrocities to the rest of the world. Their works stood as witness testimonials to history's darkest era. Each painting ingrained reflective memories retold through the acts of paints and brushes – each attesting resilience, determination, resolve, and in clear defiance against the perpetrators.
In 2005, I never imagined I would be involved in a project years later highlighting the carnages of our modern times – nor did I imagine that I would be gathering testimonials from a new group of Artists at War preserving, through their art, stories of new struggles and threats of annihilation against nations, lands and people.
Artists at War
Sam Bak - courtesy of Pucker GalleryS
Artists at War pioneers
Testimonies of creative minds affected by brutalities of our times