March 27, 1971Profile
We’ve all been told that our handwriting reveals a lot about us and what our culture—to excuse the pun— stresses and accents. It is also no secret that the art of penmanship is sorely in need of a revival, especially in Armenian orthography. This is the philosophy that drives artist Ruben Malayan. Through his quill and ink, the foremost Armenian calligrapher of our time is single-handedly resurrecting an entire art form from near-extinction. His efforts vary in approach—from creating visual art to writing books to teaching seminars—but no matter the medium, he is undoubtedly igniting a fire in the hearts of the inheritors of this beautiful, yet oft neglected, tradition
Revolutionizing art by any means necessary
In order to understand Ruben the artist, it is perhaps best to begin with Ruben the man, or more specifically, Ruben the son. Born to painter Petros Malayan, little Ruben was surrounded by art and beauty from the get-go. His father gained a reputation as an artist who broke free from the mold—choosing aesthetics that diverged from the downbeat realism of the time, ultimately creating a unique phenomenon in Soviet Armenia’s art scene. A fellow artist stated of Petros, “he remained free.”
Fast forward 40 years and the story is similar, albeit the artist and the cause are different: Ruben’s journey has taken him across the world—from Canada to Israel to India to the Netherlands—and spanned across a range of artistic mediums, including canvas, print, film/television, and graphic visuals. However, all of this has led to his ultimate passion: Armenian calligraphy. His guiding mission is simple in concept but laborious in execution: to reintroduce calligraphy studies in Armenia’s educational system, one step at a time and by any means necessary.
The art of beautiful writing is the link to our past and with the attention it deserves, it can help to shape our future as a nation of rich artistic heritage.
-Ruben Malayan to h-pem
Character, spirit and style
When one views a Ruben Malayan work of art, it is impossible to mistake it for anyone else. While firmly rooted in the calligraphic traditions of our ancients, he also fuses modern techniques into his designs, perhaps a holdover from his extensive background in tech and the digital world; the result is an utterly unique form of art. Whether he is creating beautiful calligraphy pieces or lecturing on the fundamentals of the art form, his passion for Armenian history, art, and orthography just oozes out of his pen. Anyone and everyone who has discovered an interest in Armenian calligraphy in the past decade likely owes that discovery to Ruben Malayan.
Influences and contributions
Petros Malayan, an Honored Artist of the Armenian Republic, passed away 20 years ago but his art, passion, and brilliance continue to inspire his son, who considers his father the greatest influence of his life. In the calligraphy realm, the younger Malayan has also drawn inspiration from the Mekhitarists (Armenian Benedictine monks) in Venice and Vienna, who were pioneers of the Armenian form.
- Malayan is the founder of “Armenian Genocide in Contemporary Graphic & Art Posters,” an annual international graphic poster competition that commemorates the Armenian Genocide in countries that have not yet officially recognized it. The project is meant to highlight the power and influence of art as a tool for spreading awareness and shaping public opinion on the Genocide.
- He uses his vast knowledge and experience across multiple platforms to teach others—particularly the youth—about their shared cultural legacy and how they can be the generation to reclaim the legacy of Armenian calligraphy. Currently, he is a lecturer at the American University of Armenia and Terlemezyan Art College.
- In June 2018, he participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which will highlight Armenia’s various cultural heritage enterprises.
- Malayan is fluent in four languages, all of which use different writing systems: Armenian, Russian, Hebrew, and English.
- He is an avid motorcyclist, having cycled his way through central India while working for the Tollywood film industry.
- His artwork opposing the Monsanto Company in Armenia went viral when representatives from the big-agro organization pitched their desire to expand to Armenia.
- In the spring of 2018, he started a social media campaign with the tagline, #armenianrevolutionposters, where fellow protesters in Armenia’s Velvet Revolution could share their designs and crafty slogans.
Awards and recognition
- 1999 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Armenia Internet Project and Sard ‘99 Armenian Website Prize jury member
- Winner of the “Armenian FREENET Choice” category for Good Design
- 2015 Best Digital Entry at the Centennial Art Contest of LA City Council
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As diasporans, we all know the drill: Speak Armenian, cook Armenian, marry Armenian—be as Armenian as you can in an unArmenian nation, so that our culture will not "disappear off the map." Being Armenian can, oftentimes, feel like a burden—but it does not have to be. If you’ve ever been scolded or made uncomfortable for not speaking Armenian, this guide will speak to you—in a welcoming, possibly therapeutic, way
Since the days of Mesrop Mashtots (the fifth century inventor of the Armenian alphabet*), the Armenian script has played a vital role in the cultural and artistic legacy of her people. Like ancient relics in a museum, each decorative stroke illustrates a story that is steeped in thousands of years of history, literature, art, and religion. Fast forward 1,600 years and this ancient tradition is at a crossroads for survival, with knowledge and usage almost all but forgotten. Yet, once again, one man is at the helm of a movement—a new zartonk (“renaissance”) in Armenian calligraphy. Using a wide range of multimedia, artist Ruben Malayan is ushering in a new era for this unique, yet overlooked art form
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