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Illustrations | Norashkharh: Affirmations for a new world of hope, honesty, and empowerment

January 21, 2020


By Shahen Araboghlian


Illustrations | Norashkharh: Affirmations for a new world of hope, honesty, and empowerment

In my capacity as h-pem's social media strategist, last April, I was given the task of finding Armenian graphic talent on social media platforms, specifically on Instagram. That’s around the time I came across Norashkhar—a նոր (nor | new) աշխարհ (ashkharh | world) of Armenian graphic design and typography. And right away, I was hooked...

If you’re on Instagram and follow Armenian art accounts, you’ve surely come across Norashkharh. But unlike most other accounts, this one exudes determination and dedication beyond the boundaries of creative blocks and patience—all behind the scenes. Read on to find out more about this dynamic duo...

Artist's name Ani Marganian & Anoush Khojikian

Ani is a speech-language pathologist and Anoush is a high school English teacher

City/Country Orange County, Calif.
About the artist
  • Norashkharh is the brainchild of cousins Ani Marganian, 29, and Anoush Khojikian, 30
  • The Instagram account was created to provide a space, in which learning Armenian can be fun and visual
  • Ani, the illustrator, has no formal art training

In this Father's Day post, Ani pays homage to her dad's diasporic journey (Graphic: Norashkharh)In this Father's Day post, Ani pays homage to her dad's diasporic journey (Graphic: Norashkharh)

Norashkharh is a team effort project of two cousins from Orange County, Calif.: Ani Marganian, 29, and Anoush Khojikian, 30. Earlier last year, Ani asked Anoush to teach her how to write in Armenian, which turned into weekly tutoring sessions. Ani, who’s a speech-language pathologist, would sketch down the phrases and words she’d learn from Anoush, a high school English teacher. Even though Ani has next-to-zero training in art and almost no knowledge of graphic design, her weekly sessions gave her an extra push. “I finally asked Anoush to tutor me, because I realized I had no excuse to not be learning more or practicing Armenian when many of the people I talk to every day are native speakers. So, I thought why not practice and learn from someone who I feel comfortable and talk to regularly?” she explains.

According to Ani, with their careers already in place, both she and Anoush had more time to dive deep into the language. “In earlier years we were both in school and college, so it didn’t feel as practical, and language learning was less of a priority at that time for me,” Ani says. “My poor Armenian language skills have actually always been a point of insecurity for me, so I just decided to finally take action and implement something more consistent with Anoush participating and holding me accountable.”

«Միութիւնը՝ ուժ է» translates to «Միութիւնը՝ ուժ է» translates to "Unity is strength" (Graphic: Norashkharh)

Being born in North America, both Ani and Anoush never really felt much of a connection with modern-day Armenia—that is, until they visited in 2016 and ensured a Birthright Armenia experience the following year. This made them even more immersed in the Armenian language, culture, heritage, and history, which are, as Ani mentions, some of the biggest sources of inspiration for Norashkharh.

“It’s free and informal—almost child-like—since we have no formal design training,” Ani says. “I would love to learn graphic design and how to use computer-based programs or apps to create more art and images. But I've always been more of a pen and paper person than a screen/computer tech one. It’s therapeutic for me to sit down and draw on paper—that is something I don’t want to lose,” she explains.

According to her, Norashkharh’s style and charm come from the fact that the illustrations aren’t perfect or symmetrical: “I think you can sense they are hand-drawn illustrations and there is something authentic about that, which resonates with people. I actually like the informal, hand-drawn feel,” Ani says.

And perhaps she’s right on the mark: Ani’s informal and asymmetric illustrations have resonated with people, as the pair has garnered up nearly 1,000 followers on Instagram within less than nine months of activity—not a small feat for an Armenian-content art account on the platform.

“I think our posts might appeal to our audience because we’re aiming to bring color and joy to symbols and cultural identifiers of being Armenian. I think these symbols feel like home to many of us who grew up in Armenian households—whether in Armenia or throughout the diaspora. They connect us and give us a source of identity and community. Whether it’s eating labneh [pressed yogurt] or pomegranates or reading a phrase like «անուշ ըլլայ» ("anush ullah" | bon apetit), I think the content is simple but meaningful through its cultural context.

Աշուն is autumn in Armenian (Graphic: Norashkharh)Աշուն is autumn in Armenian (Graphic: Norashkharh)

For Ani and Anoush, these opportunities to figure out what images and symbols best represent culture serve as an ongoing creative challenge. “Trying to figure out how to illustrate them in a simple, colorful way, even though they stand for something much greater, is the real challenge. The material is all meant to be encouraging, connecting, and a celebration of art, culture, and positivity—so hopefully that is what the audience is receiving from it and what attracts more people to follow us,” she explains.

Considering the audience and the sizable fan base, I was surprised to learn that Norashkharh doesn’t have an online merchandise shop yet, though it seems that there are plans in the works. “The business and tech/production side to this is all foreign to Anoush and me, so we have been chatting with friends looking for guidance in this process,” Ani says.

When merchandising happens (greeting cards, wrapping papers, bags, and small coin purses would be a few possible items), Ani says that any profit they would make would be donated to non- profits. “We have already been talking to the director of one non-profit we really like in Armenia and we have a service project in mind to support people with severe communication disorders (nonverbal individuals) in Armenia which is another dream of mine,” she explains. “So my dream is for Norashkhar to not only serve as a platform to celebrate culture/color and art but also to potential financially back a service project Anoush and I are passionate about.”

Ani and Anoush set an awesome example to all those who have been looking to learn their mother tongue but have never found the motivation, time, or energy to do so. Cultivating a language from scratch is definitely not an easy task, but there are some (baby) steps you can take—and pages like Norashkhar could be just what you’ve been looking for!

Who doesn't like պաղպաղակ (ice cream)? (Graphic: Norashkharh)Who doesn't like պաղպաղակ (ice cream)? (Graphic: Norashkharh)

Check out Norashkharh on Instagram and give them a follow!

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