Enter a Diasporan Armenian home and you’ll likely come across these decor staples: a Mt. Ararat painting, a framed թռչնագիր (bird letter) alphabet, a blue glass evil eye, an Armenian carpet, a glass jar of dried apricots or pistachios. But some homes now have replaced their traditional flowery bird letters for graphic designer Alek Surenian’s more modern take. The refreshed look uses a “flat” graphic style and a muted, curated color palette. When explaining his process, Surenian noted, “I think it’s good to evolve what’s been done in the past and turn it into something new and fresh.”
Much of his work draws inspiration from the past – whether it’s old Armenian posters, illuminated manuscripts, carpets, architecture or family heirlooms. The Armenian rug tote bag he created, for example, was inspired by a doily his great grandmother made. “It’s pretty sacred to my family, since it’s one of the few items in our possession that was owned by her,” he said. “The doily has a circular composition, so I pulled patterns from that and a Persian rug in our home and combined them together.”
Surenian’s latest drop and fifth release, The Yeraz Collection, is inspired by William Saroyan’s The Armenian and the Armenian. Featuring a cap and T-shirt with custom typography – squiggly, cloud-like letters that spell out the word երազ (dream) – the collection is “an ode to the dreamers” and those “longing for a world where a ‘New Armenia’ can become a reality.” For all of the products Surenian sells, he also sets aside a portion of proceeds for an Armenian organization. “I’ve had the great pleasure to donate to organizations such as the ARS, With Our Soldiers, Tufenkian Foundation, and now, All For Armenia, with this recent collection,” Surenian explained.
While as.am launched in 2021, many AYF members in the United States already owned some of Surenian’s designs, as he created designs for the organization’s branded merch for many years. “As a Junior growing up in Chicago, my first experiences doing product design began with designing t-shirts for local midwest AYF events,” Surenian said. Later, he served as a member of the AYF Central PR Council, during which he designed the swag for regional events. “Without these experiences, I wouldn’t be the designer I am today, and most importantly, I’ve learned new skills which I added to my ‘design tool box,’” Surenian noted.
Outside of his work for the AYF and his as.am brand, Surenian’s graphic design skills have shaped the aesthetic of the promotional materials and artwork for his two music projects: the Norkef Ensemble and Armadi Tsayn band. Since the Norkef Ensemble performs traditional kef music at dances, picnics and regional events like AYF Senior Olympics, the art draws inspiration from old album covers. Armadi Tsayn, on the other hand, is “more contemporary and artistic” so the visuals have a modern flavor; the logo is an outline of a sun peeking out over a minimalist Mt. Ararat, with an array of roots stretching into the ground. Though it’s a symbol representing a specific musical project, the logo is reflective of Surenian’s approach to art as a whole: shining light on a new future while still staying true to his origins. “I think that being Armenian is all about bringing the past into our future,” he said. “Our ability to preserve and find ways to evolve our culture from generation to generation is essential to the survival of our identity.”
Catch Surenian and folk band Armadi Tsayn at upcoming live performances in Boston on February 10, New York City on February 24, and Los Angeles on March 16.