Animal, Plant, Ornament / Armenian Ceramics – Balian Family

Curator: Einav Barranes Eliasov

Opening: Thursday 14/11/19 at 19:30

Closing: 28/12/19 at 14:00

Gallery talk: Friday 29/11/19 at 11:30

Three Armenian ceramic families arrived in Jerusalem in 1919 from Kutahya in Turkey following an invitation from the British marshals who wanted to repair the tiles of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.The three families, Ohanassian, Balian and Karkassian settled in Jerusalem and since then have remained there working and producing ceramics.

The workshop of the Balian family is in Hebron Road and is called Palestinian Pottery. Nishan, the grandfather and his son Starck were genius potters who produced a wide range of vessels, water pots, teapots and other utensils.  Marie Balian, the daughter decorated the works, an artist that developed a style of decoration with a profusion of color and motives that she painted on the pottery. What is unique about the decoration of Balian is the stories they tell of the Armenian community.  They are dynamic and fascinating and create tension between memories and traditional stories of the Armenian community and the present with modern stories. The illustration of Balian are an array of symbols and ornaments connected to family stories, journeys, history and biblical Christian stories that over the years have become a complex person language that has strengthened to become identified with the Israeli Armenian community.

The designs of the illustration that Marie Balian drew were taken from a long tradition of her family from Kutahya which she developed into her artistic concept and personal language used on the different ceramic objects made in the workshop. Especially noticeable in her painting are the vibrant colors, the soft line and the dynamic compositions. The iconography of Marie Balian focused on birds which became the identity of the Balian family. In Christianity the bird symbolizes the human spirit and for believers, through the illustrations, the images receive a deeper meaning than being part of nature.  The birds are empowered with humanity and act as an allegory of complex inter human relations.

Balian in her painting examines nature and develops a language of images and illustrative style that is free and harmonious with the works she decorates.  She draws flowers including poppies, wheat and trees such as cypresses, palms and grapevines.  Each of the images is a visual element that illustrates subjects from Christianity and Islam.  Over the years this ornamental style became her signature and differentiated her from other Armenian designs. 

Armenian ceramics is part of the Israeli landscape, and the Armenian ceramic artists brought to Jerusalem an art that did not exist before and wove their creativity in the local fabric of the city of Jerusalem.  This year marks 100 years since the arrival of Armenian ceramics in Israel and this event is commemorated in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Illustration week is an interesting opportunity to show the story of Armenian ceramics of the Balian family in the Benyamini center, ceramics that is abundant with decorations and illustrations combining history, family tradition and stories of the Armenian community. The exhibition of Armenian ceramics in the context of Illustration Week raises questions about the relationship between illustration and ceramics using traditional images that are unique and part of the local identity and their connection to contemporary illustration.

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