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Sculptor Vigen Avetis: "We are at a juncture where we must shape the Armenia we want"

Mher Yenokyan, Hetq’s correspondent in Armenia’s Nubarashen Correctional Facility, interviews the sculptor Vigen Avetis who left Armenia 26 years ago and now lives and works in Florence.

Avetis, a graduate of the Florence Academy of Fine Arts, was awarded 1st prize in the Novara City Sculpture International Competition in 2002. He was also recognized as the best sculptor of Florence in 2014. The sculptor is a member of the Union of “40 Florentines”, as well as the Donatello Artists’ Union.

Humanity has always recreated people and animals through painting and sculpture, creating reborn images and thoughts in the heart and mind. What’s the secret behind this process? Are humans trying to resemble the Creator?

It’s a very interesting query. It’s difficult to answer in a few words given the scope of the issue. Succinctly put, we come from a place, spiritually, where God is. That’s to say, we have a divine memory and we people participate in the creative process. All this is condensed in a beautiful concept. The idea of beauty is at the root of the world’s creation.

All that which God created, was deemed beautiful by him at the end. This is how the world’s creation is described.  Creators are those people who possess a memory. They recall how the world was created, with beauty. Artists are the inheritors of this idea of beauty. It’s linked to the process of divine creation. Artists give witness to that divinity, testifying to the presence of beauty in the world. This is a spiritual explanation, and the secular explanation is quite similar.

Numerous historic monuments have been preserved in Italy and Greece, regardless of ongoing warfare. In Armenia, we point to the Garni Temple, while in the new epoch, there are endless churches and stone crosses. Why is this the case? Where are the palaces of our kings, our pagan temples and monuments?

When we talk about the Armenian Genocide, we must recall that it didn’t start in 1915 or with the Hamidian Massacres. This is a battle between good and evil, the sun and the moon, of truth and falsehood. Armenians are responsible for the light, truth and beauty in the world. With the eradication of the traces of Armenians, that began after Tigranes the Great, we started to lose our place in world culture. These attacks culminated with the treaty between Ataturk and Lenin and the powers behind them. Armenian traces were gradually erased. Armenia, as a country of divine laws, would disappear and be forgotten. The fact that our traces are still being erased today, even 18th century ordinary residential buildings are torn down, is the result of an organized plan to erase Armenian traces.

The state of Azerbaijan was specifically created since Turkey wasn’t able to fully destroy Armenia. However, given that Armenians are God’s people and our region is the most holy in the world, no one, even the most powerful, can never eradicate the presence of Armenians in Armenia.

The fact that we do not have layers of history on display is the result of a planned battle against the light. And we are the bearers of light. No matter how much darkness battles light, it can only achieve a temporary victory. The dawn always comes. Light beams down and a new day is born.

Our country has been independent for almost thirty years. Lenin’s statute was brought down. Nevertheless, there is no symbol/monument in Yerevan’s central square. You have proposed the installation of an eight-meter column carrying a symbol of the sun and a winged lion. It would rotate like the hands of a clock. What do you think will stand there? Will it be something symbolizing man or animal, or maybe another symbol?

I believe my proposal is the restoration of truth. But everyone is still afraid of that place since the Bolshevik leader once stood there. They don’t have sufficient courage to replace the former symbol of darkness with one of light.

The symbol of darkness doesn’t exist today, but the followers of darkness rule our region. They are infected by communism and haven’t liberated themselves from the darkness of Bolshevism. They are anti-human anti-spiritual, and against truth and light.

The moon, which was displayed as a sickle on the flag of the Soviet Union, and the hammer, to hit people on the head, are symbols that still operate today. Sadly, they live and govern. Everything will change the day we install the symbol of the sun in our square, in the form of our Cilician lion as I proposed, or in another form.

Until the day when they discard or burn Lenin’s corpse in Moscow, we will be liberated from evil. It’s a battle, and people, consciously or unconsciously, uphold the authority of evil. Many things will change in the spiritual life of people and the state when a symbol of goodness replaces that of evil in our square. Nothing has yet changed in the spiritual life of our state.

Why is it that ferocious animals, lions and eagles, almost always appear on the emblems of countries? Will we ever see symbols of love, goodness and peace depicted?

I don’t agree. Peace shouldn’t be associated with vegetarians and war with birds of prey. Everyone, in their place, has their own meaning. There is the allegory of truth and beauty in nature. The one who eats meat isn’t worse than the one who eats plants. Everyone lives their own life. If the meat eaters didn’t exist, the vegetarians would devour the plants and turn the place into a desert.

Hippos and beetles were animal idols in ancient Egypt. Christianity, through the four apostles, introduced the lion, eagle, bull, as well as the crow and dove associated with Noah. These are metaphorical symbols, signs of the defense of nature. The lion is the strongest, and the eagle the highest-flying and most far sighted.

A reporter who interviewed you in the past noted that you once said, “our country” and later changed it to “this country”. You explained why at the time. We now have a new government. It’s a new Armenia. So, what is Armenia for you now?

Since I live in two countries, I am a citizen of both. Italy is also my country. Pointing out that difference was in vogue at the time and had more to do with the political leaders of the day that were in charge.

Today’s Armenia is the one we want to see. We are at a juncture where we must shape the Armenia we want. If we again let things go, we’ll revert to the days of Levon, Kocharyan and Serzh.

If we hand over the power of our victory to Nikol, he’ll do as he wishes. It all depends on us and how we take mastery of our victory. Authority is evil if it rests in the hands of a weak man. Those in power are  enfeebled, debilitated, since the monster in them always wins. Power is alluring, and if we allow our leaders to be tempted, we’ll have a repeat of the past.  

We are a country of three million. The people are capable, and have the right, to prevent the leaders from turning into monsters ruling over them. If we are weak, if we are sheep, leaders turn into wolves.

All of us have the responsibility to guard our country like lions and eagles. We must not wait to see how our leaders will govern us.

Would you have liked to have been a contemporary of Michelangelo? Perhaps you are removed from time and space when you sculpt.

To be honest, I am Michelangelo’s contemporary. I visited his grave the other day, in the Holy Cross Church in Florence. I went to talk with him, as a student, as a follower.

I often feel his spiritual presence, especially when working. He lives with me and I with him. There is no time in true art. Consequently, those artists who worked 500 or 1,000 years ago continue to exist through me and through others.

Photo(from left): Vigen Avetis, Mher Yenokyan

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