Karen Babayan | Out of the Ruins

“Out of the Ruins” is Karen Babayan’s compelling exhibition at Centrala, part of the Arts Council-supported year-long “Hybrid Landscapes” program. Exploring broad themes of displacement, hybrid identities, and cultural resilience across Eastern Europe, Babayan uses her Eastern European and Middle Eastern heritage, including her Armenian roots, to delve into the complex interplay between history, identity, and survival. This reflects the shared experiences of Eastern European communities and is portrayed through a series of engaging visual and literary works.

Karen Babayan is a multidisciplinary artist residing in the north of England. As a grandchild of Armenian genocide survivors, she is deeply motivated to raise awareness about this historical catastrophe and its ongoing impact, notably through recent events like the exodus and genocide of the Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Through visual art and storytelling, she addresses the complexities of identity and belonging, weaving in elements of her Armenian background. Karen Babayan’s artistic career has been marked by over 15 solo exhibitions across the UK, Armenia, and Canada, including notable shows at the Tate Britain Library in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Her works are part of many public and private collections, showcasing her engagement with issues of dual heritage, belonging, and the nuances of Eastern and Western cultural dynamics.

The exhibition showcases a selection of Babayan’s works: early career colourful paintings and ritualised objects that draw from Eastern European religious and pagan iconography, encapsulating the region’s vibrant cultures and tumultuous history; a photographic series on aluminium depicting landscapes marked by historical and cultural shifts; installations of found objects that symbolise rites of passage and the collective journey of Eastern European identities, including the Armenian experience; and passages from Babayan’s forthcoming novel, which enhance the narrative with personal and communal stories of displacement and endurance.

‘Out of the Ruins’ aims to illuminate Eastern European communities’ rich cultural tapestry and enduring spirit, including the Armenian diaspora. It deepens understanding of the challenges and achievements related to hybrid identities and displacement and sparks dialogue on preserving cultural heritage in the face of contemporary global challenges.

The exhibition’s title, ‘Out of the Ruins,’ pays homage to Armenian activist and writer Zabel Yessayan’s book ‘Among the Ruins’ (Աւերակներու մէջ, Constantinople, 1911), which documents the aftermath of the 1909 Adana massacres in Turkey. The exhibition’s title is a reverent nod to Armenian activist and writer Zabel Yessayan’s book ‘Among the Ruins’ Աւերակներու մէջ (Constantinople 1911), a first-hand account of the aftermath of the 1909 massacres of Armenians in Adana, Turkey Babayan’s exhibition ‘Out of the Ruins’ recognises and acclaims the resilience of the Armenian nation in their small, precariously independent nation-state as well as those in the Armenian diaspora whose multiple hybrid identities are a necessary strategy of survival borne out of a tumultuous history of genocide and displacement. 

The exhibition is a pivotal part of the “Hybrid Landscapes” residency program, which includes workshops, talks, and seminars designed to foster deeper engagement with the exhibition’s themes and address the residency challenges faced by Eastern European artists in the UK, including those of Armenian descent. This interactive component connects audiences directly with the artistic process and encourages meaningful dialogue across cultures.