Being Armenian: A Visual Context

From a very young age, I would doodle at every opportunity. Every time I had an empty sheet of paper or margin, my imagination would take over and those papers (homework included) became lively illustrations from my imagination.

Alek Surenian

At a young age, I was very interested in abstract art; Picasso was a significant influence. As I browsed through books and websites filled with his artwork, I began to create my own abstract pieces and one by one I would tape them on the wall in my basement to showcase my work.

I knew from an early age that I had some talent. I also knew that I was different from my school friends in certain ways, not just because of my artistic abilities, but also because of how I looked and who I was—I was Armenian.

I was teased at a young age because of my slightly darker skin and brown puffy hair. As a result, the paper and pencil became my outlet, where I could express myself freely without any criticism from others.

Traditional Armenian Couple, Oil Pastel, 2014

Superheros, cars, planes, landscapes, abstract compositions—the small sketches and art I produced in art class became my passion. As I grew older, I began to understand how art could be a powerful tool, and how I can show others who I really am.

In middle school, I continued to hone my skills. At this point I was a member of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Chicago “Ararat” member and I would occasionally be asked to design t-shirts for local events. However, it was not until high school that I discovered how my cultural heritage could impact my art.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I began to realize that I could make art that expresses the different aspects of Armenian culture and politics. I decided to make a small sketch to commemorate the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide that year. This sketch was the turning point for my work. It set the tone for my future concentrations and helped propel my skills to a new level.

After I made that sketch, I decided to create a new piece each year to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Each piece would hold a different meaning, like manifesting the struggles of our ancestors but also the triumph of how the Armenian people and spirit lives on. Most of these works were abstract and expressive to help the viewer experience the same emotion that I had when creating these pieces; what being Armenian means to me and how it shaped me into the person I am today.

Pourvar, Mixed Media, 2015

While I produced these pieces, I would also make other works, which highlighted different aspects of Armenian culture like our alphabet, our delicious food, and our homeland’s beautiful churches and landscapes. These pieces collectively became my concentration during my Junior and Senior years of high school, which also expressed my culture and ideals about identity and individuality. These pieces became a way I could educate others about my Armenian Heritage through a visual context.

Commemorating the 98th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Colored Pencil, 2014

Most of these works were displayed in various art shows. I also presented a few of my best works in my school district wide art show. I was truly grateful to be able to show and teach others about my passion for being Armenian and sharing our story. I would also use social media as a means of showing others around the country and world my work and the meaning behind each piece.

Commemorating the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Oil on Paper, 2014

These pieces carry the message about what it means to be Armenian. Being Armenian isn’t just about ethnicity—it is a lifestyle. Being Armenian is going to church. Being Armenian is learning how to make the best cheese boreg. Being Armenian is going to Armenian Camps and meeting other Armenians from around the world. Being Armenian is learning the Hayr Mer, folk songs, dancing a shoorch bar, and being politically aware and active. The list is endless. Being Armenian is hard work, and sometimes it consumes your life.

Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Mixed Media, 2015

Why is that important? Because without it, we would be nothing.

Commemorating the 101st Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Mixed Media, 2016

Armenians have been persecuted and conquered repeatedly throughout history. We have suffered a lot. But despite these tragedies, we have not been destroyed. My pieces are a tool to combat assimilation and remind not only Armenians but also non-Armenians who we are as a people and how we will continue our struggle.

Khor Virap Monastery, Oil on Paper, 2015


Alek Surenian

Alek Surenian

Alek Surenian is originally from Chicago and currently resides in the Boston area. He’s an active member of the AYF Eastern Region on a local and regional level; serving on the Public Relations Council designing graphics for AYF-ER social media platforms. He graduated in 2019 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Product Design and professionally works as a footwear designer.

1 Comment

  1. Alek,
    Yes you are Armenian. Yes you are talented, and, yes both you and your art work are amaizing. I wish you continued success. Abrees.

    George Boursalian

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