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 September 12, 2003 

Dead Women Walking: A night of contemporary art in Yerevan

Sonya Balasanian's interpretation of "Anush" portrayed women as victims.

In an audience hall there are girls first walking on all fours then resting their hands crosswise upon bars placed on their necks, then playing ball. Onstage again there are girls gathered in a musical band, dressed in wedding dresses and playing guitars and other instruments.

The cortege of women is a performance directed by Armenian-American Sonya Balasanian last week at the Center of Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan.

The verse ". . . let us mourn young lovers' untimely dead love . . ." was not sung, but rather cried out by crucified girls who then walked on all fours. Meanwhile, the back of the performance hall different women's dresses were hanging from the ceiling. The entire 40-minute performance symbolized the tragedy of women.

"Anush's abstractedness is my inner world," says Sonya Balasanyan. "I present women's role in the society. Women like crucified victims carry bars on their shoulders. Hung dresses are without any content. Woman is a dancer, a doll and something else but no attention is paid to her sense. I presented the problem of women's rights, which is an international problem. Yesterday my neighbor broke his wife's arm but he bore no responsibility for that."

Different symbolic performances representing life conditions of women are filled with the artist's pictures of childhood. There is a girl in a red dress sitting in a corner in front of a mirror. She is playing with white feathers blowing them upwards. This is a scene left from Balasanyan's memory of childhood when her father had left their home and her mother had blown a feather behind his back when he was leaving.

In the center of the hall there are two naked men lying on backless benches placed opposite each other. First they are washed with water, then are covered with white sheets. Mourning women are walking around "bodies" of men. Before there was a church ceremony to wash and wrap up deceased people in burial clothes. And it is also a part of Balasanyan's memory of her childhood spent in Tehran.

"All my life church ceremonies have been influencing my imagination. Now I'm performing them. I just want to present only men as dead bodies."

In the performance a man is also presented first as an executioner beating the ground with a whip then on a video demonstrated on a screen placed in the back-end of the stage he is presented as a person, who with insolent facial expressions cries at a silent women with eyelids cast down.

Spectators express different opinions concerning the performance.

"It would be more correct to perform this frontal explanation of women's problems in the streets," says one of the women spectators, "where women selling sunflower seeds or tired of household duties could see that they are crucified. I am not touched with primitive demonstrations of women's rights."

Wrapped up in white sheets "bodies" continued to lie in the audience hall for a long time after the performance, when the audience had already left.



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