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Hye Geen’s 7th Annual Conference Uses Arts and Design to Connect Southern California Students with
Armenian Heritage

May 11, 2012

This spring, AGBU Hye Geen brought together some of the leading voices in the arts and design industry for its 7th annual interdisciplinary conference series, “The Status of Armenian Communities Living in the United States.” Coordinated by Hye Geen’s Young Circle, the 2012 event was held on Saturday, March 10, at Woodbury University in Southern California and was organized under the heading of “Symbolism in Art, Architecture and Design.”

The conference, which was moderated by Cynthia Kossayan, a researcher at the Los Angeles architecture firm Karten Design, explored the ways Armenian heritage has been preserved through the decorative arts for centuries. Subjects ranging from the designs of ancient Armenian churches to modern art were presented by six distinguished panelists, including Narineh Mirzaeian, lecturer and architect at Gehry Partners; Aram Alajajian, the Yerevan-born principal of Alajajian-Marcoosi Architects; Haig Messerlian, AGBU Western District Committee chairman; Sona Yacoubian, Hye Geen founder and chairwoman; Hratch Kozibeyokian, a textile specialist and owner of the carpet store Ko’Z’Craft; and Peter Frank, art critic and associate editor of Fabrik Magazine.

The conference’s opening remarks were delivered by Ani Khachoyan, a member of Hye Geen’s Young Circle, and Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church. In his welcome, he applauded AGBU Hye Geen for creating forums to discuss the diverse perspectives of Armenian culture, and its continuous efforts to connect with youth. This year’s event proved to be no exception, as the various panelists engaged an audience filled with students. The first speaker, Mirzaeian, introduced them to the role of symbolism in design trends and everyday life in Armenia through her presentation, “Random Acts of Design.” Both symbols and geometric shapes were surveyed in the second lecture, “Symbolism in Armenian Architecture – Past and Present,” by Alajajian, who examined the prototype of Katahunj, the oldest known Armenian observatory (circa 7000 B.C.), and the ways it inspired his award-winning design of the St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church in Glendale, California.

The illustrative presentations underscored the ways AGBU Hye Geen, which was established in 1994 to advocate for Armenian women, has broadened the scope of its work in recent years. Messerlian, the event’s third speaker, praised Hye Geen’s major cultural and social projects in Armenia and the US, and commended it for being “an organization that not only focuses on empowering Armenian women, but also sponsors exciting and daring conferences, always speaks with an original voice, and encourages our audiences not only to just look and hear, but also to see and listen, to make a connection, and a difference.” Sona Yacoubian, who has led AGBU Hye Geen for almost two decades, pointed to the ways Armenian youth can continue to make a difference in their communities, urging them to learn more about their cultural heritage through design.

In her remarks, she stated, “the Armenian Highlands have inspired our architects and sculptors to design our monasteries and churches and khatchkars. The landscape and colors of the rich flora of our homeland have inspired our painters. And, Armenian history has influenced our craftsmen, silversmiths, jewelers, and rug weavers to incorporate Armenian symbols.” The use of those symbols was detailed by the fifth speaker, Kozibeyokian, whose presentation, “Iconography in Armenian Woven Art,” focused on shapes within textiles and their historical use in sacred Armenian rituals, royal ceremonies, and domestic life. Transporting the audience to a more recent period, Frank, the conference’s final panelist, gave his presentation, “Caucasian Standard Time: Armenian-Americans and California Art in the Postwar Era,” which built on, and brought an Armenian perspective to, the recent Getty Center festival “Pacific-Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.” He invoked the work of Armenian-American artists such as John Altoon and Paul Sarkissian, who helped usher in a cultural revival in California in the second half of the 20th century.

To conclude the conference, Nare Gabrielian, the head of Woodbury University’s Armenian Student Association, announced the winners of the Architecture Department’s recent design competition, which drew submissions from many of the school’s Armenian students.

The conference was one of Hye Gee’s numerous initiative targeting young adults. On Saturday, May 5, it also organized the presentation, “Youth and the Search for Fulfillment” at the AGBU Pasadena Center. It featured Cynthia Kossayan, Yeghig L. Keshishian, Virginia Gulesserian, and Sarmen Keshishian, all recent graduates or current students, who were joined by Salpi A. Garavaryan and Charles Pilavian, Ph.D. Together, they discussed some of the challenges facing youth in the diaspora, and the importance of living as an Armenian American as opposed to an American Armenian. Praising the prevalence of family values, they also pointed to the key role that education plays in producing strong leadership in the community. The event drew a crowd of close to a hundred attendees.