March 23 2015

Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:17pm EDT

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - One hundred years after the mass killing of
Armenians, a Chicago artist has created a monumental painting to
honor the victims and celebrate a culture that nearly vanished.

The 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman troops became a defining
element of Armenian national identity.

Seeking to promote awareness of the tragedy and Armenian culture,
Chicago-based artist Jackie Kazarian embarked on a painting of enormous
scale in an endeavor called Project 1915.

The painting, which Kazarian has titled Armenia (Hayastan), will be
displayed for the first time in Chicago's Mana Contemporary gallery
from April 17 to May 29.

The work is a semi-abstract landscape splashed with bold images and
text from ancient Armenian maps and church architecture, united by
a pattern of needle lace by Kazarian's Armenian-born grandmother and
with colors and symbols from illuminated manuscripts.

Kazarian, who has Armenian roots, drew on Pablo Picasso's epic painting
Guernica, which depicts the horror of a northern Spanish village's
bombing during Spain's civil war, for her painting.

It is the same size as Guernica at 11.5 feet by 26 feet.

"No one would have known what happened in Guernica if it wasn't for
that painting," Kazarian said.

The nature and scale of the killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces
during World War One remain highly contentious.

While a number of countries define the massacres as genocide and
while Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting,
the Turkish government denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and
that it was an act of genocide.

Last year, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan made unprecedented
condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed at the time, but
the legacy remains an obstacle to reviving frozen relations between
Turkey and neighboring Armenia, a small former Soviet territory.

In Kazarian's painting, two open hands span the bottom corners, as if
holding up the work and an entire culture. It is a gesture Kazarian
said she remembered her grandmother often using.

"This is a very visceral, emotional project. But like any art that
references a painful past, it is about remembering, healing and
educating ourselves to make a better world," Kazarian said.

After its Chicago exhibition, the painting will be displayed at
universities and galleries across the United States and the world.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Richard Chang and Peter Cooney)