| From Beirut, Lebanon
“There comes a moment when you feel you can’t continue living abroad. That feeling is not built upon having a glamorous life or a steady job. It is simply a moment when you feel you can’t keep living where you are and you decide to return home.
I was working in a cartoon studio. I had my dream job there. Once, as I was listening to Ruben Hakhverdian’s song ‘Words’, I realized that even though everything was so perfect, I felt disconnected to life abroad and everything related to it. So, I booked a ticket to Armenia on that day and went home right away.
I can keep my head above the water in any place, but deep inside of my heart, I love to live here.
My last name is Naghashyan. We come from the “Naghash” painter family. From my mother’s side, my grandfather is from Jermuk and my grandmother is from Marash. From my father’s side, we’re from Sebastia. During the Armenian genocide or maybe earlier, my great grandfather was a teacher in Sebastia and was hung by the Turks around 1914 or so. My grandfather was kidnapped and taken to Israel. After a while they were told that Armenians were allowed to go back to their homes, so my grandfather did. On the way back to Sebastia, he met my grandmother and they headed to Beirut, Lebanon. In Beirut my grandparents gave shelter to the Armenian emigrant children who survived the Turkish aggression and started to teach them so they would not forget how to read and write in Armenian. Along with their friends, they opened a moving school: a school that changes location from time to time. They held classes in one place until they were told that the school was illegal. So they would take their stuffs and move to another place. That’s how the first Armenian school in Beirut, which was called the Nubarian School, was founded.
Since my paintings were the best among other students during my years in school, my art teacher sent my portfolio to the University of Rome, Italy, and I was accepted. When my teacher Vazgen Tutunjyan came to let my parents know about my acceptance, I got two different reactions: my father became happy but my mother became sad. Because I was young, millions of thoughts were crossing her mind in terms of letting me study abroad. During the same period of time, my brother was studying architecture in Armenia, so my parents asked him about opportunities to pursue painting there. They received a positive response and sent me to Armenia to continue my studies.
The students tried to give me friendly advice that the locals are not ‘good enough’ and that I shouldn’t communicate with them. I was living in a dormitory. I had no job so in order to work I went to my local friends’ studio where we always talked. They took such good care of me. It was truly exceptional. And those nonsense words (about locals) came to mean nothing in my life. I am still sad that people feel that way towards locals because it’s an unreasonable and dead wrong way of thinking.
Even if you know someone or something well enough to judge it, you still cannot generalize that judgment.
During my years of study at the university in Armenia, I would travel with friends to villages and when I was surrounded by nature, I more strongly felt that I belonged here. The more I spent time in nature, the more I got to know myself. Before I came here, it was like a piece of me was missing inside. I was lost and I couldn’t find myself.
I got a job at Hye Films in the cartoon department. When I finished my studies in 1995, I went to Montreal and because I already had job experience at Hye Films, I received a job offer. I was working for months to earn enough money, and I intended to go right back home.
During that period I worked on a cartoon named ‘The old woman and pigeons”, by Silven Shomei, which was very interesting, famous, and won prizes.
At the same time, I went to many exhibitions especially in the U.S., including New York and Boston, but also in Montreal and other cities as well. I lived in Holland for six months. I got an invitation to hold my personal exhibition in London and I ended up staying in Europe for two years. Those two years had a huge impact on my life and led me to engage in research to gain a better understanding of European Art.
Currently, I work in the Naregatsi Art Institute as a visual art director. I am in charge of exhibitions and I also work on designing the covers of interesting books, CDs, and DVDs.
It was much easier for me to find a job in the cartoon world. But now, the cartoon world, the thinking pattern cartoons, and everything related to it have changed. They are created by computer programs, which are lacking in soul. It is no longer interesting to work in the cartoon world. But now that I work in the Narekatsi Art Institute, I can utilize my knowledge and experience both as a painter and as a cartoon producer, so I feel great working here.
I don’t like to be involved in only a specific field of art. Some of my thoughts can only be expressed in a certain way through certain kinds of paintings.
I challenge the fact that everyone is leaving their motherland without knowing where they are headed to. Almost everywhere, problems are the same.
I am so lucky to have such good friends here, whom I love very much. We have different ways of thinking but the honesty strengthens our friendship. We listen to music, discuss a piece of art we are working on, and we feel free to share opinions. The opening of every single exhibition is like a celebration for us because you see the people that you didn’t get the chance to see after graduation and it seems like no one has changed even a bit. Everyone is the same.
Everywhere has its own color, but in Armenia, sunlight prevails over the other colors, even in the night sky. It seems like the golden rays of the sun penetrate everything.
During my school years, there were strange stereotypes about Armenians that I didn’t like at all. When I came here, I realized that some of them are nonsense and just the opposite. Local Armenians are free thinkers and they have much to share and discuss. There are many people who are involved in art, which was one of the reasons that I realized this country is mine. I felt so close to those things.
We’re lucky because it seems that many parts of our universe are reflected in Armenia. There are places that make you feel as though you’re in Sweden and other places that look like Italy. The nature of Armenia varies from place to place and in terms of this nature, Armenia is really interesting. I feel good here and it is beyond words to describe the reason.”