Great Barrington artist and writer, Suzi Banks Baum will travel to Gyumri, Armenia for the 4th year of her New Illuminations artist residency this October. The project teaches the book arts to an advanced group of Armenian women artists and introduce new participants to hand bound books made in the Coptic and Armenian binding styles. With New Illuminations, Baum is helping to build a creative community and creating professional opportunities for Armenian Women artists to sell books and to teach workshops. The project has garnered significant attention. According to Princeton scholar Erin Piñon; “New Illuminations is not only an extension of the chronology of Armenian book arts into the twenty-first century and a return to the collaborative nature of traditional Armenian book production, but as a whole, the project takes a giant step in carving out a space for women to contribute to, and evolve the practice of bookmaking in Armenia today.”

Gyumri, Armenia (pop. 114,500 - 2018 census) has been recovering from the devastation of the 1988 Spitak earthquake for decades. Finally in 2019, Gyumri is in a state of restoration and change. The formerly cobbled streets are being renovated with new paving stones and rebuilt sidewalks, cafes are busy, and there is a new art gallery featuring work by local artisans. A new bakery employs young adults with disabilities. A cafe on Rijkov Street offers fresh foods and teas made from locally sourced farm products. These changes indicate the long coming revitalization of the ancient cultural center of Armenia. Baum’s work with women artists in Gyumri is part of the city’s renewal.

Since October 2016, Banks Baum has traveled to Gyumri to teach the book arts to women artists in an effort to connect them to the Armenian tradition of illuminated manuscripts and empower them with tools for their own artistic work and widen professional opportunities. Assisted by Gyumri project coordinator Annie Ginosyan, the New Illuminations artists have hosted three successful exhibitions of new work. Baum states; “Women’s lives in Armenia are constrained by patriarchal social structures and poverty.  This project strikes a light in a dark corner of Armenia and the books the women make blaze new trails for the artists.”

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(press release sent to WSBS from Suzi Banks Baum, article image taken from Suzi Banks Baum's Facebook page

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