Olga Popova Illustration Essay

“Parents may orchestrate the future life of their offspring by choosing only those objects that symbolize prestigious and desired professions,” Professor Antonyan said. “A book for a scientist or writer; a pencil for an architect, designer or artist; a calculator for an accountant.”

Parents can also game the selection by positioning objects nearer to or farther from their infant’s reach. At one recent ceremony, “the father of the baby asked to place a ladle a bit far from his daughter to save her from a destiny of a housewife,” Professor Antonyan said.

At the foundation of the ritual, and reflected in its names, is a magical association between teeth (agra or atam) and grain (hadig or hatik), according to Professor Antonyan.

The ceremony begins by pouring various cereal grains over and around the child. Typically but not always, the baby’s head is protected by a piece of fabric, a pair of hands or sometimes even an umbrella.

The ritual sprinkling is thought to ensure that the child will have healthy, even teeth. It could also have fertility associations, akin to throwing rice at a wedding, according to Levon Abrahamian, a cultural anthropologist in Yerevan.

Today, teeth-shaped cakes, toys, candy and balloons are popular party favors at these celebrations, which are widely practiced in Armenia and across the Armenian diaspora.

In the earliest written references to the ritual, from the 19th century, just two objects were put before the teething child. The prediction then was not about an adult profession but the sex of the next sibling: Grasping a knife meant a brother was on the way, a comb (or mirror) a sister.

“The divination for the future profession was developed much later in the urbanized and modernized environment of Soviet Armenia and the diaspora,” Professor Antonyan said, “when the future career would determine the baby’s life.”

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The multiple levels of meaning that Cubism suggested in the first place were only finally realized by Gris and Duchamp who, in very different manners, achieved a new kind of illusionistic space, beyond the flat surface of the painting, that demands intellectual and emotional involvement.

And so it is for the women artists in this exhibition and their compatriots. Their subjects are more likely to be active and contextual--Rozanova's Fire in the City, Popova's Traveling Woman, Udaltsova's Restaurant, etc.--perhaps through their contact with Italian Futurism. They occasionally deal with art subjects--still lifes, portraits--but are more usually concerned with a totality of experience, for instance that of peasants and workers in Goncharova's early "primitivist" work and Malevich's early Cubist work. As simultaneity became a possibility, through Cubism and Futurism, and then an imperative, the Russians took that to mean that concatenations of mind as well as the cacaphony of city, war, machines, speed, etc. could be represented and structured, almost to the point of Surrealism in some cases.

In Airplane Over a Train (1913), Goncharova joined earth and sky, two eras of invention, two machines in a single spiritual space and single, almost comic image. Malevich combined a cow and a violin in one painting (1913) and in another brought together top-hatted figure, fish, sword, red spoon, candle, Orthodox church, ladder, saw, and several words (1914). Popova's Traveling Woman (1915) occupies every corner of the canvas. She and her surroundings are everywhere, represented by waves of hair, a hand, steps, and words, and they are resolved in and activated by a structure of arcs and lines that intersect with larger arcs and a narrow vertical triangle down the center of the painting. No matter how much one looks there is always more. Everything has meaning. Everything is invested with energy.

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