INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRA MANUKYA
Los Angeles, California ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Alexandra, we can’t discuss your dramatic narratives without bringing in mention of your son, Paul Karmiryan, the talented young Latin Ballroom dancer who figures prominently throughout your work and was recently a competitor on the Fox television series, “So You Think You Can Dance.” How did this collaboration came about? Who approached whom?
Alexandra Manukyan: My son Paul has an incredible understanding of the concepts I’m working with. Also as a dancer he is able to express his emotions through his fluid and graceful movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Throughout the years I have always hired professional male models for my series, but would be not completely satisfied with their performance. Several times I have asked my sons Paul and David to pose for me after I worked with the models, and would realize that they had a better understanding of the concept, and much fluidity in their movements, that is so important for the composition.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How did your relationship with your sons change as a result of this collaboration? Did you each learn something new about the other through the course of working together like this?
Alexandra Manukyan: Of course, these kind of creative collaborations either bring people closer, or if both sides have enormous egos it can ruin their relationship. In our case it made us understand how much we think alike, how much we care for each other, and how we want to help and support each other. Also, in collaborations like these you can really see and appreciate the other person’s talent, creative thinking and understanding.
As a mother I’m so impressed by both of my sons, that being so young they feel such responsibility and pride in helping me with my work, and mostly what blows my mind, they do it so readily without any complains.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: The choreography of your narratives plays out very much like an orchestrated dance. What is your own background in the performing arts?
Alexandra Manukyan: I have no background in performing arts, but I had careers in fashion and graphic designs, and I think these experiences played a huge role in developing my conceptual and compositional vision. Also this collective knowledge in visual arts provides me with tools and techniques that allow me be more versatile and help me freely orchestrate the compositions.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How did the staging for your pieces come about? Do you have a very specific idea of how you envision each playing out and then instruct your models precisely how to position themselves? Or do the pieces evolve more as a choreographed piece would, with give and take, trial and error, throwing some movements out and replacing them with new inspirations until you finally arrived at a result that pleased?
Alexandra Manukyan: I always have a theme and narrative before I start working with my models. I draw the rough sketches of the compositions, and decide what kind of costumes I have to make, or what models I will hire for that particular theme. Generally, I have an idea about the models’ poses, but I encourage the models to move around and feel the concept, and I closely check their movements, and catch the best look or composition of the bodies, flow of the movements. I like the spontaneity of the poses that way. Sometimes in the process, some new ideas will pop up, or sometimes themes I thought would be great will turn out to be not so exciting. I improvise as I go.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: On an emotional level, many of your pieces have a very deliberate edge to them. From the positioning of your models to the very cut and material of the costumes, there is an overriding feeling of battles being fought ~ both within and without. What is at the heart of these struggles? What is at stake? What are the risks?
Alexandra Manukyan: The subject of my paintings are mostly female, and I want them to refuse to fall into victimhood or self-loathing. Instead, [quote]these women wear their wounds with pride. Every solution in life requires a struggle. The mistakes of the pasts, the wounds of pain and loss, and the icy stabs of betrayal. And yet none of these specters weigh them down or define their destinies.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: One of the recurring themes throughout much of your work is that sense of woman as redefining herself within the context of modern times. No longer content to play the passive role, waiting to be seduced or rescued, many of the women you paint exude a clear self-confidence.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And yet, there is tension as well: She wants to be seen and accepted as she truly is, but we also see masks that pop up in many of your portraits. Can you tell us about this?
Alexandra Manukyan: The masks and the accompanying identities we all assume because of the roles we must play obstructs the conscious mind from acknowledging what unites us through all the isolation and chaos: our shared encounters with pain, loss, desire, and longing for serenity and acceptance. The false facades we all manufacture to adapt and belong render most blind and lost in a world where the meaningless has somehow become meaningful and the idea of a shared honest self devoid of hidden agendas all too infrequent.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Who have been your greatest sources of inspiration?
Alexandra Manukyan: My biggest artistic inspiration is Rembrandt.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: As a teacher, what is the one thing above all else you hope to impart to your students?
Alexandra Manukyan: I can’t stress enough the importance of obtaining the strongest of academic drawing skills and an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Although you currently live in Los Angeles and went to school there as well, the United States is not your country of origin. How much of your work is influenced by your Armenian roots and culture? Has this homage been deliberate or come about much more organically?
Alexandra Manukyan: In Armenia I graduated from art college and Pedagogical State University where I majored in Fine Arts. So, needless to say, my work is directly influenced by the educations I received from Armenia. I was really blessed to get a very solid, extensive and fundamental knowledge in academic drawing and painting.
After immigrating to the US, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue in an art career, and for many years I attended different schools, learning new things, and changing careers. I felt this constant and ongoing inner struggle and professional dissatisfaction. Weirdly and interestingly enough, all of these experiences made me realize that the only place I felt whole and content was art, and there’s nothing else I would rather do for the rest of my life.
Since 1990, Alexandra Manukyan has worked in the fashion and entertainment industries as a designer and graphic artist.
You can also enjoy more of her work by visiting her website.
To connect with her son, Latin dancer Paul Karmiryan,recently featured on the show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” please find him here on Facebook.