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Painting | 'Sequences—The Migrants—Sumgait'

Jean Kazandjian

February 27, 2021


By Loucig Guloyan-Srabian


Painting | 'Sequences—The Migrants—Sumgait'

The Sumgait massacres through the eyes of the Armenian French surrealist painter Jean Kazandjian.


Surrealism; pop art


United States


Christine Argillet Collection

On this day 33 years ago, at the onset of the Artsakh movement, a large-scale pogrom was unleashed against Armenians in Sumgait.

Mobs went door-to-door, searching for Armenians, vandalizing and looting their homes. Many were brutally killed in the streets. The atrocities resulted in the migration of tens of thousands of Armenians, who were escorted out of town by military police.

"Sequences—The Migrants—Sumgait" painted by the renowned Armenian French artist Jean Kazandjian in 1996, is an artistic response to the ethnic cleansing and mass migration of Armenians from Azerbaijan.

The surrealist painter, who has brushed shoulders with the likes of Salvador Dalí  and Giorgio de Chirico in his youth, reimagines the event by tracing it back to the Armenian Genocide. For Kazandjian, his own migrations and those of his ancestors from Musa Ler to Ethiopia, Lebanon, France, and the United States, shape his identity and his art. 

“It is about bitter migration, that of people who run away from tragedy. Bitterness is presented by the red color on the top,” reads the description of the painting at

Kazandjian peels back the narrative through superimposed layers of figurative invention; an infused mixture of surrealist style combined with pop art. By creating a subtle depth through the interaction of dual surfaces, he perceives one episode through another: The historic displacement of Western Armenians who transport their belongings on mules, comes to the fore against a backdrop of contemporary refugees moving out in trucks and cars.

“Things don’t have to appear immediately. I want to show a part of it so someone can discover the rest,” Kazandjian once said.

At a close glance, the painter evokes the forced migrations of Armenians through primeval “sequences,” as mirrored in the dynamic abstraction of "The Migrants—Karabagh," (from “The Migrants” series), where refugees from Artsakh move towards the light, however dim.

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