Metropolitan Museum of Art to present world premiere of ‘They Will Take My Island’

Photo of Arshile Gorky and his mother, which is the inspiration of his iconic painting “The Artist and His Mother,” both of which appear in the film They Will Take My Island. (Provided by Morahan Arts & Media)

NEW YORK, NY – On Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 7:00pm ET, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present the digital world premiere of Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian and Oscar-nominated Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s MetLiveArts commission, They Will Take My Island (2020), a highly personal 30-minute video with performances by the JACK and Silvana string quartets.

They Will Take My Island (2020) is a collaboration between Kouyoumdjian and Egoyan over their mutual admiration of the Armenian painter Arshile Gorky, who has been highly influential to their work. It is a musical documentary hybrid infused with themes of family and immigration. The work integrates audio and film footage from Egoyan’s Ararat, a film that explores Gorky’s life in the context of the Armenian Genocide and modern life, and A Portrait of Arshile, a film Egoyan and his wife Arsinée Khanjian made in dedication to their son, named after the painter. It also includes interviews with Saskia Spender, granddaughter of Gorky and president of the Arshile Gorky Foundation; Parker Field, managing director of the Arshile Gorky Foundation; and Michael Taylor, chief curator of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

They Will Take My Island was originally scheduled to premiere in March 2020 as part of a portrait concert celebrating Kouyoumdjian’s music, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When Atom and I created They Will Take My Island, we reflected on the Armenian Genocide through the lens of one individual artist and his own processing of such horrors through his art making,” writes Kouyoumdjian. “In a way, Gorky’s creative work invited us to process our own identities as descendants of survivors and to choose how and what we amplify with our artistic voices. We never would have anticipated that history would devastatingly repeat itself in our present. With the current conflicts over indigenous Armenian lands, deliberate ethnic cleansing and loss of life, mass displacement, and historic art and cultural structures being erased, we feel not only a responsibility to celebrate our culture as best as we are able, but to shout for aid and attention on the Armenian community as we all confront this global humanitarian crisis together.”

She continues, “It is an honor to creatively connect with both of these artists: Gorky’s resilience in surviving the Armenian Genocide and living to create such meaningful and impactful work has stayed in my heart since seeing his work for the first time in Egoyan’s film Ararat nearly twenty years ago. Through this film, Egoyan became my first role model of a living Armenian artist who speaks loudly through pulling his heritage into contemporary and socially complex narratives. As Saskia Spender says in her interview for this piece: ‘When people are not in a position to talk about truths, perhaps because there is a political or conflict situation, then the artists are the truth tellers.'”

Egoyan says, “In this moment where the frailty of an ancient heritage is so clear, when we can already see the Armenian presence being erased from historical lands, we are offering a meditation on the transmission of culture. They Will Take My Island begins with a photograph of a young Arshile Gorky with his cherished mother, taken in the city of Van just before the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It ends with an image taken in the Art Gallery of Ontario, where Gorky’s painting They Will Take My Island hangs today. How the complex story of this great Armenian-American artist shifted from an island located in Lake Van and migrated to a studio in New York is at the root of the exploration Mary and I have taken to create this piece. Given the current threats against national Armenian heritage, we feel this work is particularly urgent.”

About Mary Kouyoumdjian
Mary Kouyoumdjian is a composer with projects ranging from concert works to multimedia collaborations and film scores. As a first generation Armenian-American and having come from a family ​directly affected by the Lebanese Civil War and Armenian Genocide, she uses a sonic palette that draws on her heritage, interest in music as documentary, and background in experimental composition to progressively blend the old with the new. A strong believer in the freedom of speech and the arts as an amplifier of expression, her compositional work often integrates recorded testimonies with resilient individuals and field recordings of place and aims to invite empathy by humanizing complex experiences around social and political conflict.

Kouyoumdjian has received commissions for such organizations as the New York Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Beth Morrison Projects/OPERA America, Alarm Will Sound, International Contemporary Ensemble, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the American Composers Forum, Roomful of Teeth, WQXR, REDSHIFT, Experiments in Opera, Helen Simoneau Danse, the Nouveau Classical Project, Music of Remembrance, Friction Quartet, Ensemble Oktoplus, and the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble among others. Her work has been performed internationally at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, the Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Millennium Park, Benaroya Hall, Prototype Festival, the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Cabrillo Festival, Big Ears Festival, 21C Music Festival, and Cal Performances. Her residencies include those with EMPAC, Buffalo String Works, Alarm Will Sound/The Mizzou International Composers Festival, Roulette/The Jerome Foundation, Montalvo Arts Center, and Exploring the Metropolis. Her music has been described as “eloquently scripted” and “emotionally wracking” by The New York Times and as “politically fearless” and “the most harrowing moments on stage at any New York performance” by New York Music Daily. In her work as a composer, orchestrator, and music editor for film, she has collaborated on a diverse array of motion pictures including orchestrating on the soundtracks to The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features) and Demonic (Dimension Films).

Currently pursuing her Composition D.M.A. as a Teaching Fellow at Columbia University, Kouyoumdjian studies primarily with Zosha Di Castri, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl, and George Lewis. She holds an M.A. in Composition from Columbia University, an M.A. in Scoring for Film & Multimedia from New York University, and a B.A. in Music Composition from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied contemporary composition with Chaya Czernowin, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, and Chinary Ung; new music performance with Steven Schick; and modern jazz with Anthony Davis. Dedicated to new music advocacy, Kouyoumdjian is a Co-Founder of the annual new music conference New Music Gathering, served as the founding Executive Director of contemporary music ensemble Hotel Elefant, and served as Co-Artistic Director of Alaska’s new music festival Wild Shore New Music. As an avid educator, Kouyoumdjian has taught at the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program, Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program, Columbia University, and is on faculty at Brooklyn College’s Feirstein School of Cinema and at The New School. Kouyoumdjian is proud to be on the board of the American Composers Forum and is published by Schott’s PSNY.

About Atom Egoyan
Atom Egoyan is one of the most celebrated contemporary filmmakers on the international scene. With 18 feature films and related projects, he has won numerous awards including prizes from the Cannes Film Festival and Academy-Awards® nominations.

He has directed theater and opera projects around the world with productions in London, Dublin, New York, Houston, Tel Aviv and across his native Canada. Egoyan’s stage interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s Eh Joe was recognized with The Irish Times/ESB Award for Best Direction. His award-winning productions for the Canadian Opera Company include Strauss’s Salome, Wagner’s Die Walküre, and Mozart’s Così fan tutte. He directed critically-acclaimed productions of Guo Wenjing’s contemporary opera Feng Yi Ting for the Spoleto Festival USA and the Lincoln Center Festival, Dr. Ox’s Experiment for English National Opera, and Janáček’s Jenůfa for Pacific Opera Victoria. He has written librettos for composer Rodney Sharman with a premiere performance of Showroom this upcoming spring.

Egoyan has collaborated with composers Philip Glass, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Reich, as well as co-composing two songs with guitar performances on Gordon Downie’s solo album, Coke Machine Glow. As part of the Aldeburgh Festival in England, he collaborated on Nocturnal, an installation to mark Benjamin Britten’s centenary and Julian Bream’s commission of the seminal work for classical guitar.

Egoyan’s art installations have been presented at the Venice Biennale, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, and the Manchester International Festival. Steenbeckett, his commission for Artangel in London, was selected for the Tate’s permanent collection.

About MetLive Arts
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Live Arts commissions and presents new works of performance: music, words, movement, sound and related hybrids. With its singular, artistically rigorous body of work, Live Arts furthers The Met’s position as a center for shared understanding and an active creative center for living artists. The department deepens connections between audiences and works of art and encourages the discovery of untested modes of performance. Commissions by the Department generate new scholarship and brings art in The Met’s collection into conversation with contemporary creators. Live Arts produces the most expansive season of new and large-scale works in any museum-based performance series in the United States.

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.


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