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Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian: A figurative sculptor with a big heart and an insightful grasp of the human condition, dies

July 09, 2022

Stories

By Loucig Guloyan-Srabian

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New Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian: A figurative sculptor with a big heart and an insightful grasp of the human condition, dies

It is with a heavy heart that we at h-pem mourn the untimely passing of Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian on July 6th. In her quest for the humane, the influential Lebanese-Armenian sculptor reinvented the human figure for over three decades. Her irreplaceable depth of experience, spirited creativity, incredibly generous mentorship, and unwavering kindness towards everyone will sadly be missed by the many people whose lives she touched and enriched. 

An outstanding sculptor of many virtues, Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian wore many hats—all with caring and aplomb.

She was one of the few sculptors of her generation who was not afraid of the truth of her time; that “we are born innocent and unaware of the evils of this world” as she wrote on her Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic, introducing a new sculpture series: “Newspaper sculptures,” which in her own words “hide in their volume, words, lyrics and silent thoughts that my fingers have wrapped in a bare iron wire armature.” 

“Newspaper sculptures,” which in her own words“hide in their volume, words, lyrics and silent thoughts that my fingers have wrapped up in a bare iron wire armature.” “Newspaper sculptures hide in their volume, words, lyrics and silent thoughts that my fingers have wrapped in a bare iron wire armature.”  Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian.

A professor of sculpture at distinguished universities and a founding member of the Hamazkayin “Toros Roslin” Art Academy in Lebanon, Guléne was a dedicated mentor to emerging artists, as well as a frequent participant in national and international art fairs, festivals, and symposiums. 

“If I do not create art, I am dead. It is death for me,” she said when interviewed by The Armenian Weekly after the Beirut explosion of Aug 2020.

Was it a prolific artist’s premonition of doom? 

Lebanon has lost one of its finest and most dynamic female artists. On his Twitter profile the country’s caretaker Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada called Guléne’s death a “great loss.” 

“Life-giving power”

“Salvation of the Culture” is a tribute to Armenian women refugees who divided the gigantic manuscript “Homilies of Moush” and carried it to safety during the Armenian Genocide.“Salvation of the Culture” is a tribute to Armenian women refugees who divided the gigantic manuscript “Homilies of Mush” and carried it to safety during the Armenian Genocide.

Guléne invented a highly personal technique of using different materials, delivering sculptures of robust originality. Her refined aesthetics, away from distracting details, shaped the human form with such dexterity and precision that amazed fans, students, and critics alike.

"Life-giving power, the material is fundamental for me; it carries and expands my thoughts, my research, my reflections, and my emotions. The quest for the humane is a central theme in my work—I try to extract from earth, stone, bronze, and iron the life of a human being which has to be perpetually reinvented," reads her website.

There is something simple yet profound about Guléne’s artistic reinvention of the “humane,” with a focus on universal human values and transitions in the human life cycle—particularly motherhood. Sculptures of enigmatic women, ballerinas, and guitarists traverse time and place, evoking symbolism from antiquity to the present, with a powerful message about the empowerment of women.

“The Night” (main image; bottom right) contains elements of one such reinterpretation of solitude and hope; “Salvation of the Culture”—a tribute to Armenian women refugees who divided the gigantic manuscript Msho Charentir (Մշօ Ճառընտիր | Homilies of Mush) and carried it to safety during the Armenian Genocide—celebrates the free will and power of women to change the course of events. 

The symbiosis of presence and absence

Time never stops in Guléne’s art. A series of iron sculptures created in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War demonstrates her exceptional skill in exploring the human condition. With titles like “Wanderers,” “Fugitives,” “Timid Presence,” and “Nostalgia,” she narrates stories of hope and resilience despite tragedies, and reflects on the fragility and value of peace (main image). True to her very unique identity, she empathizes with those who stayed and those who migrated—cut-out silhouettes leave a void behind rusty surfaces, while colored reclining figurines commit to the path of reconstruction. The symbiosis of presence and absence echoes across borders and generations. It perpetuates itself through the sculptor’s perfect balance of humility and strength, and her reverence for the sublime.

A series of iron sculptures created in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil war were shown together at the “Armenian Identity Today” exhibition as part of the “Armenian Art Experience Switzerland” festival in 2019.A series of iron sculptures created in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War were shown together at the “Armenian Identity Today” exhibition as part of the “Armenian Art Experience Switzerland” festival in 2019.

“It’s not possible to create and enjoy beauty without art,” she would tell her students during a teaching career that spanned several decades, earning well-deserved respect for her extensive knowledge, artistic perception, wise counsel, and uncanny skill in instilling confidence.

As we contemplate this bitter moment of loss, we cannot help but admire Guléne’s gentle smile and twinkling eyes, her compassionate nature and matriarchal essence, and whisper:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

For a full appreciation of Guléne Torossian-Der Boghossian's oeuvre, check out her website here.

All photos are courtesy of the artist, unless otherwise noted.

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