Diana Apcar | Berj Kailian
The Republic of the United States of America has been compared to that grain of mustard seed, which when planted in the earth budded forth and grew into such dimensions that the birds of the air lodged under the branches thereof. I pray that the shadow of those branches be extended over my bleeding nation.
NEW EXHIBITION AT THE ARMENIAN MUSEUM IN WATERTOWN, MA
Opening: Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 6–8:30 pm
Adele & Haig Der Manuelian galleries
AN UNTOLD STORY
The Armenian Museum presents a new exhibition in the Adele & Haig Der Manuelian galleries that explores the intertwined lives of diplomat Diana Agabeg Apcar (1859–1937) and artist Berjouhi Kailian (1914–2014). In 1919, history connected these two women in Yokohama, Japan. As refugees from the Armenian Genocide, Berj and her mother found themselves in the shadow of Diana’s sturdy branches as she helped them find their way to a new home in the United States. Berj’s creative life flourished for 95 more years because of Diana’s compassion.
This exhibition centers on the notion that individuals who take a stand can impact lives exponentially.
Not many know of Diana Apcar and the impact she had on shaping the discourse about the plight of Armenians during WWI. Born in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar) into a prominent Armenian merchant family, she grew up in Calcutta, and later moved to Yokohama with her husband to start a new company. In Japan, she became aware of the plight of her fellow Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and acted as an unofficial diplomat to write letters, newspaper articles, and books to create a network of support for Armenians throughout the world. She provided food and shelter, helped with visas and travel documents, and fiercely negotiated with the steamship companies to unite Armenian refugees with relatives in the United States. She was named Honorary Consul to Japan by the Armenian Republic, making her one of the first female diplomats in the modern age.
A survivor of the Armenian Genocide, Berj Kailian fled from her home in Ottoman Turkey, strapped to her mother’s back, to Yerevan (present-day Armenia). They managed to board the Trans-Siberian railroad to a refugee camp in Vladivostok, Russia, where Diana Apcar reached out to bring them to shelter in Yokohama. She arranged their passage on the Mexico Maru to sail to Seattle, Washington, where they made their way to join family in Weymouth, MA. Berj became an artist and made paintings and prints, many of which recall her early history as a refugee in a visceral way. Layered surfaces with earthbound colors reveal a buried past that revisited her memory throughout her long life. This significant body of work was donated by her family to the Armenian Museum in 2018.
Brought together for the first time, the objects, ephemera, and paintings on display connect these two women to tell this important story of persistence, survival, and witness.
—Jennifer Liston Munson, Executive Director
The exhibition will take place in the newly-renovated third floor galleries. This contemporary space, designed by Ben Thompson in 1969, has polished concrete floors and a cement waffled ceiling, and will contain objects from Diana Apcar’s life, including her pen that she used to write diplomats, world leaders, and friends around the world. Her personal papers and official documents will help tell the story of her astounding ability to create an extensive global network of supporters a hundred years before the emergence of social media.
The Museum’s recent acquisition of Berj Kailian’s work includes mixed media paintings on wood panels that seem to come from the earth—the thick layers are gouged, chiseled, and marked as part of a physical process “to release the hurt”. Suppressed loss emerges through to the surfaces with recurring imagery of lost architecture to convey the frenzy of looking for the siblings she will never find.
Together, their work intermingles at the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA to bring context and connection to each of their substantial contributions to Armenian and Armenian-American experience.
OPENING RECEPTION & GALLERY TALK:
April 24, 2019, 6–8:30 pm
6 pm: Candlelight gallery viewing to observe Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, 1st floor
7 pm: Reception and gallery talk, Adele & Haig Der Manuelian galleries, 3rd floor
This exhibition will open on April 24, 2019 in recognition of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. The Armenian Museum wishes to engage in meaningful dialogue around this solemn subject that permeates Armenian experience around the world.
Join us from 6–8:30 pm for a candlelight viewing of the galleries followed by a discussion of the traumatic effects of the Genocide to remember the victims, survivors, and individuals who chose to intervene.