[Sarkis Muradyan (Սարգիս Մուրադյան, Саркис Мурадян, 1927 – 2007) was one of the foremost Soviet Armenian artists of the 20th century. Mark Grigorian, a journalist and writer, is also Muradyan’s nephew, and on the occasion of Muradyan’s anniversary last year, he wrote a moving memoir of his uncle . What follows is a loose paraphrase.]
Muradyan is the author of the famous portrait of Komitas, Armenia’s beloved musician, sitting before a piano clad in a robe of red. The painting is warm and dark. Komitas’s hand gently droops on the keyboard. The carpet is lush, the music sheet is on the piano, ready to be played. All would be well were it not for the appearance of a Turkish policeman at the corner of the painting. They were there to arrest the composer. The painting is titled ‘The Last Night of Komitas’.
Muradyan is the painter of ‘The Wedding at Hrazdan’. A merry crowd dances. Men raise their hands and spread them wide. They are a little drunk. The bride is lost in the confusion. In the corner are two old ladies, gossiping. The dancing crowd is so typical of the Armenian wedding. The painting is faithful in every detail: the baggy and loose men’s suits, the big-nosed rough faces.
Then there is ‘My Daughters’. There are two girls wearing identical red dresses. They are between ten and twelve years old. They are gawky and awkward, still awaiting adolescence. They gaze at the viewer with childlike eyes not entirely certain of what’s happening around them. The painting is nearly gothic in execution – flat, angular, dark. In those years nobody painted quite like that.
There are other paintings of Sarkis’s daughters. The elder, Goharik, appears in one, sixteen years old, sitting in profile, holding a jug in her hands. It’s a beautiful piece, filled with love and hopes for a happy life.
The younger, Zarui, posed for a beautiful picture titled in the Soviet style ‘Under a peaceful sky’ although there’s little about the title that relates to the picture. It is summer. There are mountains. The grass has dried and yellowed; above the yellow grass is an azure sky. Through the mountains winds a cement pipe. Mark Grigorian always thought that there was water in that pipe, perhaps because there’s drought all around, the burnt grass is so dry that one wants to slake its thirst. On the pipe walks a girl. Her arms are spread out as she seeks to balance herself. She wears a minidress in the fashion of the seventies. She is filled with concentration – she must traverse the pipe.
Muradyan is the painter of ‘At dawn’. It depicts a tranquil lake. On its bank is a nude girl in profile, thin as a reed. She is stretching, her arms wrapped around her head, elbows apart. She is as lovely as the dawn. In the painting, there is the girl and there is the rising sun. There is also another character in the painting – a bull. The dark, powerful animal immediately invokes an association with Zeus about to ravish Europa. And immediately thereafter arrives another association, that of virility, a symbol of masculinity attracted to the slim girl and the beauty of the morning.
Muradyan is the painter of the stunning portrait of two old men who have lost their sons in the war, and yet wait for them, hoping desperately that the boys will come back. Muradyan is the painter of another picture, in which several men carry the body of their perished friend. Muradyan is the painter of portraits of his close friend the poet Paruyr Sevak. And so on and on.
Sarkis Muradyan became an accomplished artist in the early 1960s, in the period of the Khruschev thaw. Of this time we can say that this was the first opportunity since the Stalinist terror to be free, to seek one’s identity. For Armenian intellectuals this was a time when they could again address a period that was even more traumatic than Stalin’s war on the classes, namely the genocide of 1915. Muradyan and Sevak, painter and poet, began to talk of this period, and each turned to Komitas Vardapet. The genius composer and folklorist had been arrested on the night of the 24 April 1915, and lost his mind from the horror of his experience. He spent twenty years in a Parisian mental asylum, and wasn’t ever able again to write a single note of music. Muradyan painted the picture mentioned above, while Sevak wrote the poem ‘The unsilenceable belfry’ which became popular.
This was insufficient for Muradyan and Sevak. They became leaders of a movement for the recognition of the genocide in the USSR, something that had been hitherto refused recognition by the Soviet state. They were successful in these efforts. Still, they lived in a time of duality and circumspection. On the one hand, they had to be seen as loyal Soviet citizens and were indeed part of the system. On the other, they sought to oppose it as they could. They attempted to go beyond the official ideology, to reassert their right to mourn openly the tragedy of their people, to reclaim the Armenian past. To do so, they expanded the boundaries of the Soviet system, and led themselves into nationalism. From the perspective of the time, Muradyan, Sevak, Hrant Matevosyan and Silva Kaputikyan all fit into the new model of post-Stalinisti socialism. Muradyan himself was one of the leaders of this movement that aimed to raise a national consciousness.
- Mark Grigorian, ‘Sarkis Muradyan‘, 11 February 2011.
- Huberta von Voss, Portraits of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World, Berghahn Books, 2007.
- Natalia Gomtsyan, ‘Sarkis Muradyan – Poet of Painting‘, Voice of Armenia, 6 March 2010.