“In Armenia, a large-nosed person expects you to draw him with a small nose”

05.05.2017, vox populi

Living in Poland for more than 25 years, I’ve never been cut off from Armenia’s domestic politics and everyday life of its people. I always have one foot in the homeland. I know it from both inside and outside. This helps to gain better insight of what is put to paper — in the form of caricatures. 

Before working at MediaLab, I drew caricatures for 12 years for a Polish newspaper, portraying various politicians, covering the life there, but I wanted to draw for a newspaper in Armenia. To my surprise, when I would try to find such a platform, I was refused. 

When Facebook was “born,” I began to upload drawings on my page, but I was faced with another problem: my images were stolen. Furthermore, my name was removed from the bottom of the image and even someone else’s name placed instead.

There was a period when people requested images that were against my principles; for instance, vulgar or offensive images. I refused…  I was forced to close up, and I began to draw what I wanted.

When I met MediaLab’s editor and received an offer to collaborate, everything changed. MediaLab is a good platform to deliver what I feel to many people in both Armenia and the diaspora.

It’s always important for an illustrator for as many people as possible to see and react to his illustrations. When you work in a foreign country, few know about your works, and some see the works that were stolen, not knowing who the real creator is.

In Armenia, events develop so quickly, so unusually, funny things happen, and the colors are so dense that a caricaturist or screenwriter won’t be able to capture it all. 

"My dear, you don't have a backbone!" One of Tigran Vardikyan's caricatures in MediaLab.

If anyone needs to cover an unusual event, they don’t have to go anywhere else — they’ll easily find many topics in Armenia. Special glasses won’t even be needed.

If in another country, a smart, beautiful person says or does something stupid, it’s hard to penetrate his inner world and understand what he meant, while in Armenia, everything is out in the open: the short man shouts the loudest, the bald talks about being hairy, small-bodied people for some reason drive big cars, weak people are the noisiest. 

And dishonest steps are made with the noblest of facial expressions. 

But when you try to depict all that in a caricature, it is perceived as a personal insult.

Whereas a caricature should be perceived as a product of what is felt, a reflection of reality. I draw with my heart, how I feel. I try to get hold of what the another person radiates and displays, at least not explicitly.

Drawing caricatures at a young age is one thing; at a mature age, something completely different, since you begin to see more, understand the nuances, not agree with some things, things that, according to you, are not honest and fair.

A caricaturist monologues, putting to paper what he feels, not what he takes from the universe or invents.

In any case, a caricaturist must be honest, avoid hypocrisy and stay within limits. And to understand a caricature, all that is needed is a sense of humor. This type of art must be taken somewhat lightly and with humor, as though you’re entering a room of funhouse mirrors.

For many years, I’ve been drawing caricatures and meeting many different people, but I see that perceptions are markedly different. 

In southern countries, including Armenia, where people are more warm-blooded and accustomed to praising their own sense of humor, many more often get insulted from caricatures than laugh.

Whereas in northern countries, it’s the opposite: people get delighted, are thrilled, laugh. You get a lot of energy by seeing some people even get upset when you draw them.

I’ve noticed that in Armenia, a large-nosed man sits in front of you and expects you to draw him with a very small nose.

Here there are birthday parties and events where they take caricatures as gifts. Often when they request my services, I ask, should I draw with my right or left hand? I rejoice when they say the more incisive, the better. In that situation, I sing while I draw because you know that this person is laughing with you.

I don’t know the reason why in Armenia a drawing is perceived as an insult. I think they should take it lightly and move on. Otherwise, you begin to blame your surroundings, the illustrator for everything…

You never know, but one day the multi-colored society may turn gray, pluralist people may become without an opinion, and darkness can prevail. And the bad thing is you begin to get accustomed to this situation, even seeing beauty in it. And then you say you don’t want to come out of this darkness because it’s become familiar to you. 

You have to come out of the darkness; otherwise, the light will gradually diminish.

I would be happy if we no longer had opportunities to fight or express discontent in Armenia. In that case, I’ll work on the oil painting that is close to my heart.

Tigran Vardikyan
Illustrator, painter

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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