statue of the beloved musician is not at all
like Yerevan's more traditional monuments..
On July 4 Yerevan mayor Yervand Zakharyan raised
a white sheet to unveil (officially) the controversial
statue honoring composer Arno Babajanyan at the
corner of Teryan and Tumanyan streets in Yerevan.
The musician's famous "Nocturne" played
as background music and on it rode a mix of applause
"This is not a statue, this is a shame for
our city," someone shouted.
Whether to be praised or slandered, the Babajanyan
statue has become a lightning rod of artistic
controversy, dividing onlookers into admirers
who appreciate modern free expression and protestors
who favor the solemn style of Soviet tradition.
The statue first appeared in Opera Square last
September and before it could be officially presented
it had created so much uproar that even President
Robert Kocharyan weighed in on the debate. (Kocharyan
questioned whether the statue was appropriate.
Then-mayor Robert Nazaryan, who commissioned the
piece, staunchly defended it.)
Public outcry was so great that the statue was
dismantled and its creator, sculptor David Bejanyan
was asked to make modifications.
Other artists defended Bejanyan's work, while
intelligentsia, fans of the popular musician and
traditionalists called it a disgrace.
At the heart of the dispute was the manner in
which Bejanyan chose to portray Babajanyan, giving
the musician a rather whimsical and exaggerated
expression, and exceptionally long fingers that
critics said made him look like a bird.
Bejanyan reluctantly agreed to alter the statue,
saying that he would not compromise the general
mood of the piece, but would tone down its caricature
After seven months the statue returned to its
pedestal, where Babajanyan is represented, seated
at a grand piano (made of Ukranian basalt). The
bronze sculpture cost about $50,000, given by
benefactor Ruben Hayrapetyan who said Bejanyan
and an architect donated their work.
artist made subtle changes, but not obvious
enough to satisfy critics.
The revised Babajanyan has shorter fingers and
his face is more realistic. But in a city filled
with serious-faced, static statues of heroes,
this one will no doubt continue to divide opinions
At the opening ceremony noted Armenian writers,
art critics, painters and politicians made speeches.
But all were accompanied by whistles and protests,
some organized by the board of the Arno Babajanyan
Artist Sos Sargsyan grew angry at the outcry
during his speech and chastised the audience to
"respect taste and perception of other people
and behave as civilized people."
Poet and publicist Artem Harutyunyan philosophized
that: "a ghost of Stalin's regime lives in
many people's souls and it is a reason why the
first installment of the sculpture was shamefully
rejected underlining the lack of the taste. The
more we have monuments like this one in our city
the more our people will be progressive and there
will be less cruelties and murders."
Philologist Zhenia Manaseryan said the monument
is "not a sculpture but a grotesque something
that has no relation with Arno Babajanyan."
But movie director Ruben Gevorgyants countered:
"Arno himself, whom I used to know very well,
was a collective character of wild emotions and
his sculpture shouldn't be any different. It shouldn't
be simple and ordinary and it shouldn't be something
like a static figure."
Bejanyan, whose work can be found in France, Germany
and several CIS countries, took the praise and
criticism with equal measure. "When you create
something that people talk a lot about and even
criticize, it means there is something to be appreciated,"
the sculptor said.
One participant at the opening said the controversy
is not about art, but about Armenian character.
"Our society has always liked to complain
and protest irrespective of whether something
has been done well or badly," said writer
and publicist Aghasi Aivazyan. "I am sure
that if instead of the monument Arno Babajanyan
himself were standing there, they would again