28 May 2007

1718) Art: Edik Balaian Helps Armenians And Turks Look In The Mirror

click to enlarge Using ink and lead as his weapon, cartoonist Edik Balian creates an animated discourse between viewer and artist. Edik's cartoon's are rife with political satire. He uses his cartoons as a tool to examine the pith of current political issues. His cartoons primarily investigate the complexities of Armenia's vertiginous history and explore its current political ironies. .

Balaian uses his caricatures to bring consciousness and new perspectives to intense social and political situations. The main character in his cartoons is named Dodop, a hapless-looking character with an exaggerated nose and mischievous smile. Dopdop is the reoccurring character in almost all of Balaian's work. His persona is always shifting. Dodop cannot be pigeonholed. He constantly inhabits different roles within the story line of a cartoon, Balaian portrays his protagonist in various guises so that the viewer will be able to contemplate all angles of a certain issue and employ varying perspectives. In one cartoon, Dodop will be an Armenian government official; in another cartoon, he will be a Turkish soldier. Dopdop can also be depicted as a mere plebian. Dodop appears to be a dopy and feeble character, but behind this facade lays a character that is underlain with profundity. Balaian created Dodop as an archetype that readers will quickly recognize.

click to enlarge

Balaian explains "Dodop is everybody all at once, and many times he is nobody. I use him as a symbol to assert certain opinions about social and political situations."

He continues, "I don't like to draw real people or known political figures, because when I do that people will make assumptions. Instead I use Dodop to communicate ideas. This helps bring awareness to the immediate action, rather than draw focus on a particular person."

Balaian's cartoons vary from the subversive to the downright hilarious, but whatever the image may be, all of Balaian's cartoons resonate a tone of seriousness. Some newspapers in the past have wanted to censor Balaians's work. "Drawing political cartoons is a form of journalism. The cartoons address issues that are current; cartoons are created for the present time, illuminating serious issues in a humorous way. Sometimes the cartoon may be too abrasive for viewers, but our community must be able to embrace these cartoons and enjoy them for what they are."

Some images in Balaian's oeuvre include a series of the Mother Armenia statue confronting issues of Armenia's newfound independence. The use of Mother Armenia is a recognizable emblem for all Armenians. Balaian uses Mother Armenia as a symbol to illustrate the dichotomy between life during the Soviet era and the new independent Armenia. One example is Mother Armenia laying on a hospital bed in an operating room. She looks very ill and has surrendered her shield and sword. The doctors who are in the room are intentionally ignoring her and instead are busy gallivanting and playing games.

Balaian's work is underscored with a weight of subversiveness, empathy, and frankness. Many of his cartoons examine the polarization between Armenia and the diaspora. In several of his cartoons, a diaspora Armenian can be identified as a Dodop sporting a "Kiss Me I'm Armenian" T-shirt. In one tableau Armenia is seen as a floating lamdmass in the middle of the ocean, about to sink. One little Dodop is sticking his finger in a hole in the land so that the land does not sink. The diaspora Armenian is removed form the landmass, smoking a cigar and analyzing the problem from afar. Balaian says, "I see this a lot in the Armenian community. Everybody is apt to criticize the government and policies in Armenia. I see people always expressing their views at coffee houses. When I ask them why they don't do something about these problems, they turn to me and say that is not my responsibility."

Balaian believes that every Armenian has a responsibility toward helping Armenia in whatever capacity it may be. Balaian's contributions, among other things, are creating political cartoons that bring awareness and action into the community. "Unfortunately, we don't have serious political cartoons in the Armenian newspapers. This form of art is much needed."

Balaian's cartoons usually deal with sensitive subjects. He is keen on attacking these issues with satire and wit. Balaians described one of his favorite cartoons "The drawing shows a big chair that is falling though the cracks. Through the falling crevices the words Human Rights, Democracy, Economy are etched in the fractured foundation. The chair symbolizes the government. The chair has a missing leg, and a Dodop dressed in a Turkish military uniform is trying to hold up the one leg of the chair. This shows that Turkey's only strength lies in its military prowess; beyond that, the government is tarnished with corruption and a dishonest past."

Edik does not remember a time when he was not drawing. From his youth to the present, he has produced a trove of cartoons, sketches, and various drawings. He had his first cartoons published in Iran when he was only 15 years old. Many years after that he continued to draw cartoons for newspapers in Iran, primarily in the Tamasha and Kayhan newspapers. In 1985 he moved to France and began creating cartoons for French publications such as Le Matin and Broadcast Magazine. Edik now lives in Glendale, where he spends most of his time with computer graphics and continues to create work for various Armenian newspapers, Balian realizes that there is a severe shortage of outlets for his cartoons, especially in Armenian publications. "There is not a lot of opportunity for me to create work for Armenian newspapers. Most papers are either partisan or the budget does not permit for cartoon sections. This is a shame because satirical cartoons are perhaps one of the best ways to reveal truths to the pubic."

by Lory Tatoulian
Armenian Reporter - 5/26/2007

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