New gallery displays Armenian objects of ‘witness and survival’

New gallery displays Armenian objects of ‘witness and survival’

PanARMENIAN.Net - The long-stored “objects of witness and survival” of the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown will be spotlighted in a new first-floor gallery opening on November 15, The Boston Globe reports.

Many who survived the Genocide of 1915-1923 fled their homeland, some secretly harboring sacred objects as they passed through border stations on their journey to the United States.

At first, the objects were honored quietly in bedroom shrines. But eventually many were donated to a group of Armenians in the Boston area who wanted to protect them for future generations.

The founders of the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown rented the basement of a Belmont church, which served as the museum from 1986 to 1990, when it moved to its current quarters at 65 Main St.

As if by reflex, some of the objects were boxed again. That is, until this past January, when Jennifer Liston Munson joined the museum as its new executive director.

“Now,” she said, “we are able to emerge from that initial impulse of protect and preserve, to present and share.”

The museum’s long-stored “objects of witness and survival” will be spotlighted in a new first-floor gallery opening on Nov. 15. At a free opening reception, guests can enjoy food and refreshments, speeches by museum leadership, and live music by Armenian cellist Kate Kayaian.

The museum’s collection is a vast repository, with 5,000 ancient and medieval Armenian coins, more than 3,000 textiles, religious artifacts, ceramics, medieval illuminations, and library. The 1969 brutalist-style building was designed by Ben Thompson, a member of the Architects Collaborative and founder of Design Research.

Now the building is undergoing a “reinvention process,” Munson said, with the aid of Virginia Durruty, an architect who most recently redesigned galleries in the Louis Kahn building at Yale University.

“As we speak, the carpeting covering the concrete floors is being lifted up and will be polished,” Munson said in an interview earlier this fall. A metaphor, she added, “for the difficulty of the Armenian history.”

One of the donated objects that will be highlighted in the new gallery is a medieval reliquary arm — a hollow metal-and-brass arm designed to house the bones of a saint. It was bequeathed to the museum by a woman named Aghavni Demirjian.

In 1916, Demirjian’s mother was escorting a friend to a Russian border crossing when she encountered two women who feared they would be searched and their reliquary arm confiscated. They gave the sacred metal arm to Demirjian’s mother, who brought it with her to the United States and kept it in a shrine in her Rhode Island bedroom.

When she died, her daughter donated the reliquary arm to the museum.

“Of course, this is very relevant right now,” Munson said. “We have so many refugees, we have so many people fleeing their homeland.”

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