Recent Protect ARTsakh Auction Raised Funds for Displaced Armenians

Liz Catalano
Published on

A benefit auction raising money for displaced individuals in Artsakh concluded on December 20th, 2020. The Protect ARTsakh auction was listed on ArtScoops, a Beirut-based auction platform, and included 78 lots from 60 artists. 

Artsakh, an Armenian breakaway state located in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the South Caucasus, erupted in violence for six weeks starting in September of 2020. Fighting broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed land, which was home to ethnic Armenians. After both sides reached a peace deal in early November, thousands of civilians were displaced. The recent online sale raised funds for five nonprofit organizations assisting the Artsakh population.

“By offering… works highlighting unique talents of artists from Armenia and beyond, we wish to highlight the vibrant Armenian art scene but also elevate artists from around the world using their talents to give a voice to the voiceless,” the organizers stated on the auction’s ArtScoops page.

Astrid Sarkissian, Jardin d'Arménie, Silk Scarf Blue, 2019. Image from Protect ARTsakh.
Astrid Sarkissian, Jardin d’Arménie, Silk Scarf Blue, 2019. Image from Protect ARTsakh.

The organizers conceptualized this benefit auction months before the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out. Inspired by the flood of relief following the deadly explosion in Beirut this August, three Armenians in the art world collaborated to support Artsakh. Lara Arslanian, a Brussels-based gallerist, and Garabed Bardakjian, an exhibition organizer, brought business experience to the endeavor. Sarine Semerjian, a self-taught artist, also volunteered to put the Protect ARTsakh auction together. 

“We hope that… this auction can become, in essence, a collaborative effort to provide both short term and long term aid to the people of Artsakh,” they said in the auction catalog.

Mikayel Ohanjanyan, untitled sculpture, 2012. Image from Protect ARTsakh
Mikayel Ohanjanyan, untitled sculpture, 2012. Image from Protect ARTsakh

The listings offered a wide selection of prices and mediums, reflecting the diversity of the participating artists. High estimates ranged from USD 150 to $32,000. Leading the catalog were works by Mikayel Ohanjanyan, Silvina der Meguerditchian, and Aikaterini Gegisian, artists who together helped Armenia win a Golden Lion award at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Some of the lots explored Armenia’s cultural heritage, while others interrogated the experience of the Armenian diaspora. Movses Guloyan created From Martyrdom to Universal Peace specifically for the Protect ARTsakh auction ($15,000 – $20,000). It continues the artist’s sculpture series honoring victims of the Armenian Genocide, carried out during World War I

Movses Guloyan, From Martyrdom to Universal Peace, 2020. Image from Protect ARTsakh.
Movses Guloyan, From Martyrdom to Universal Peace, 2020. Image from Protect ARTsakh.

Taleen Setrakian, a New York-based Armenian artist, reflected on the cultural heritage of Artsakh in her offered works. Tatik U Papik Lounging Atop the Mountains That Are Ours, a 2020 acrylic painting, drew inspiration from Sargis Baghdasaryan’s We Are Our Mountains sculpture in Artsakh. Baghdasaryan’s volcanic stone monument, which depicts an elderly man and woman, has become a cultural icon of the region. It can be found on the Artsakh coat of arms and its currency. Alexandra Kaprielian also referenced the monument in her 14-karat rose gold and diamond necklace, offered in the recent auction with an estimate of $475 to $550. 

Another participating artist examined the recent conflict in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosana Palazyan began creating tiny fabric artworks while in quarantine this year. Offered in the Protect ARTsakh auction were two miniature face masks embroidered with the artist’s hair ($3,000 – $3,500). Fusing herself with her work, Palazyan used the masks to decry violence and discrimination in both Artsakh and Brazil, where she currently lives. “From the beginning, when I heard about Artsakh and the conflict again, I thought I could unite the two screams: from the people of my ancestral origin and from the people of my homeland,” she said in the lot description.

Rosana Palazyan, Tseghasbanutyun aylevs yerpek and Genocídio nunca mais (Genocide never again), 2020. Image from Protect ARTsakh.
Rosana Palazyan, Tseghasbanutyun aylevs yerpek and Genocídio nunca mais (Genocide never again), 2020. Image from Protect ARTsakh.

The Protect ARTsakh auction ran from December 14th through December 20th, more than a month after the peace deal ended the formal fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Since early November, museums and cultural institutions have joined the call to protect the region’s displaced population and their heritage amid ongoing violence. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Trust are among those drawing continued attention to the situation. 

In the meantime, proceeds from the Protect ARTsakh auction will provide immediate relief to displaced persons and families in the region.  

Looking for more art world news? Read Auction Daily’s recent coverage of 2020’s longest bidding war