The Fowler Museum, UCLA, showcases the intricate Armenian lacework of the genocide survivor

The Fowler Museum, UCLA, showcases the intricate Armenian lacework of the genocide survivor

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is currently hosting a significant exhibition called “Janyak: Armenian Art of Knots and Loops.” The exhibition opened its doors to the public in April of last year and will remain on display until April 7, 2024. It is curated by Gassia Armenian, a Fowler curatorial and research associate.
The collection on display features 14 janyak doilies created by Marie Pilibossian (1898–1986), an Armenian genocide survivor who emigrated to America. Professor Avedis Sanjian, a prominent Armenian Studies scholar, encouraged Pilibossian to donate the doilies to the Fowler Museum in 1980, believing it was crucial to document this critical tradition at UCLA. This exhibit is particularly significant in Los Angeles, which is home to the largest Armenian community in the diaspora. Displaced Armenian women like Pilibossian carried this tactile tradition with them into exile and their new homes, knotting memories of survival and endurance into their lacework, bridging time and space, and demonstrating political unity and resolve.
Although janyak may appear to be a relatively simple craft that uses only needle and thread (in contrast to embroidery, which adds stitching to a base fabric), the intricacy of this lacework, the technical precision, and the refined imagination it requires make it a vibrant form of artistry in its own right. Serving primarily as important decorative objects in Armenian homes, janyak played a crucial aesthetic role in family life and demonstrated the skill, taste, and diligence of Armenian women.
Each piece of lace incorporates a range of symbols and patterns, many of which regularly appear in janyak produced in Armenia and its diaspora. The exhibition highlights specific patterns referencing people, places, and concepts such as eternity. Contextual photographs trace the emigration and life of Marie Pilibossian, as well as sculptural manifestations of janyak in bronze and stone, some dating back to the 8th century BCE.
It is worth noting that the Fowler Museum is one of three public art institutions of the School of the Arts and Architecture at UCLA, which includes CAP UCLA and the Hammer Museum. The Fowler Museum explores global arts and cultures with an emphasis on Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Indigenous Americas—past and present. The Fowler enhances our understanding and appreciation of the world’s diverse peoples, cultures, and religions through dynamic exhibitions, publications, and public programs informed by interdisciplinary approaches and the perspectives of the cultures represented.

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