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Abelina Galustian - Womansword and Beyond - 3D virtual exhibition by Stan State University Art Galleries

Abelina Galustian - Womansword and Beyond

Fr, 10/16/2020Fr, 11/06/2020

curated by:

Abelina Galustian was born in Tehran, Iran to Armenian parents of the diaspora. During the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War, her family escaped the country to seek refuge from Iraq’s earlier attacks. They eventually found the opportunity to start a new life in California, and despite their traumatic migration, the motivation to continue toward a brighter future gave them the hope of recovering their fundamental rights. The challenges that came with a complete uprooting subsumed not only the losses of material and socio-cultural capital, but also generational dissonance—intensified due to the difficult adjustment to their host society.
The bicultural conflicts pushed Galustian to adhere to the normative expectations in both private and public spaces. Following the standard patterns of cultural norms and values in each realm (private/public, old/new) became a coping strategy she endured perpetually, notwithstanding her best efforts to access a presence in the social commentaries of her art. Galustian’s parents condemned the Womansword paintings, claiming that the works were an affront to Armenian/Eastern values. They viewed her work apart from the larger meaning in the project and labeled it pornographic and prurient. The subsequent estrangement of Galustian by her parents lasted more than a year, during which time art became the lens by which she viewed the world. Her works simultaneously and inadvertently became a type of litmus test that exposed the thinly veiled ideologies of the viewing public. The evocations of invisible politics in her visual language extracted violent and unpredictable reactions from both men and women. She was baffled by the audience’s reception at first, but in retrospect, it made sense for visual communication in the form of painting to be immediate, visceral, and violent itself for its instant penetration and assault on the senses.
The complex socio-psychological reception of Galustian’s artworks would lead to her intellectual pursuit of critical art history in higher education, where she honed her symbolic (Woman)sword. Both critic and artist, Galustian could now see how the plastic arts transcended the limits of language, and evoked reactions that were raw, honest, and immediate, eliding space and time for political correctness.
Galustian’s attempts to introduce objection to “objective-styles” in the Orientalist documentary ideal, informed her utilization of the same methods of Master artists. The heavy reliance on photo-references have long been a critical component in Orientalist painters’ repertoire to generate absolute accuracy, but for Galustian, it became an effective tool to turn the viewer’s gaze toward the direction of uncomfortable truths. Her study of the representational regimes in Orientalism led to a more candid approach in her collaborative works with photographer, Hilma Shahinian. Together, they joined forces in 2003 on what would be the “Veiled” series that opposed the fanatical control over women’s bodies, but, ironically, it was a woman attending the underground feminist art exhibition in Iran, who had the works confiscated by authorities. Fourteen years later, they again risked being blacklisted by their birth country, when Shahinian’s expert photography and Galustian’s hyperrealist brush worked in tandem to produce “PLAyatollah”. In this work, they target the blind spots of corruption, deception and hypocrisy of religious extremists and high-ranking clergy by appropriating a womanly gaze within the masculine artistic production.
The criminalization of race during Trump’s authority, inevitably evoked memories of domination with its violence and shaming practices. Stamped in bold red letters, the words “Illegal Alien,” was affixed on Galustian’s administrative school files by the US Department of Education. She bore her nonhuman status of alien while her family spent thousands of dollars in legal fees to protect their right to establish residency. After relentless efforts for legal assistance, Galustian petitioned independently for naturalization, and it wasn’t until 1995 when the judge, who happened to be Armenian, conducted the swearing-in ceremony for her admittance to U.S. citizenship. In her latest painting titled “Miss Illegal Alien,” Galustian collaborates, once again, with Shahinian to illuminate racialized and gendered dynamics. The work exhibits how local/global forces claim ownership of the entire embodiment of the female subject as a site of negotiation and a zone of engagement, and raises questions regarding who belongs, who is “qualified,” and who gets to determine life trajectories.

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