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Oct 20 2020

Yerevan Biennial Cancels Launch Ceremony Due To Armenia And Azerbaijan Conflict

by Ariana Heffner

KARÉN MIRZOYAN’s Intergalactic War : Invaders, 2012– , photograph of drawings on windows, on Yerevan Biennial Digital Exhibtion. The physical exhibition is scheduled to open in Armenia in September, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Yerevan Biennial.

Events planned around the launch of the digital exhibition for the inaugural Yerevan Biennial, including a launch ceremony and two panel discussions, were canceled on September 29 by the Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation (YBAF) as a result of the ongoing heavy fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan that broke out days earlier.

In a statement, YBAF explained that the scheduling change was “in response to the current crisis originating in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and in respect of the victims of the conflict and their families . . . We are mourning in particular civilian casualties.” Lorenzo Fusi, artistic director and chief curator of Yerevan Biennial 2020–21, shared on October 19 that “The possibility that bombing could actually occur in Yerevan was remote, an alien thought . . . now it is a scary reality, another situation in which past, present and future collide,” according to an interview published in Ocula.

The digital exhibition (September 30–January 17, 2021), titled “The Time Complex,” is the first chapter of the inaugural Biennial, which delayed its in-person exhibitions to September 2021 due to the spread of Covid-19. The digital show is inspired by Austrian-Armenian philosopher Armen Avanessian’s book The Time Complex: Post-Contemporary (2016) to explore the concept of time, interpret history, and imagine the future. A total of 41 Armenian and international artists are featured, including photographer Karén Mirzoyan, who visualizes the first war between space-invaders in his series Intergalactic War: Invaders (2012– ), and artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah, who combines the styles of sci-fi documentary with archival materials in The Last Angel of History (1996) to discuss Black culture as well as the influence of funk musician George Clinton.

A decades-long feud between neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan has escalated this year over Nagorno-Karabakh. The disputed territory, an autonomous region during the Soviet times, is now internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has an Armenian ethnic majority, and has been a source of contention between the two nations since the end of the six-year long Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. On September 27, locally based armed forces from both Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in heavy combat, resulting in the declaration of martial law and military mobilization by Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan on the same day. Both countries signed a Moscow-brokered ceasefire on October 17. However clashes reportedly resumed within minutes of the cease-fire taking effect. At least 70,000 people in the area have being displaced, according to the BBC, while there have been hundreds of military and civilian deaths thus far. 

The Biennial was co-founded in 2019 by Armenia-based businessman Fabio Lenzi and co-founders of the real estate company Hovanian International, Vahak and Hasmig Hovanian. 

Ariana Heffner is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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