BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN
Fabio Lenzi and Nina Hovnanian were recently in Los Angeles to promote the inaugural 2020 Yerevan Biennial, Armenia’s first contemporary art biennial. An initiative of the newly established Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation, the Yerevan Biennial will run from September 24 to December 31, and will take place across Yerevan.
Co-founded by Fabio Lenzi and the Hovnanian International founding family, the Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation aims to ignite hope, enthusiasm, and initiative in the youth of Armenia through art, culture, and education. The Foundation currently has a number of international experts with biennial experience on staff, and Board Members from Yerevan, New York, Italy, and Los Angeles. By the end of the hiring process, the YBAF will have 12 to 15 staff members. A series of teams will also be hired per project.
The aim of the Biennial is to engage as many art and cultural centers in Yerevan as possible. The Foundation will select several locations in the center of Yerevan, where participants and attendees will have the opportunity to absorb Armenian culture through various means of art. International Curator Lorenzo Fusi will curate an exhibition where local and international artists will be invited to participate. The biennial will also feature a number of self-initiatives, from theatre, opera, concerts, and more, that the Foundation will collaborate with.
Lenzi and the Hovnanian International founding family are currently promoting the Yerevan Biennial across the globe, with the first announcement taking place at the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles. The 2020 Yerevan Biennial team has plans to announce the Biennial in Paris, London, New York, and South Africa in the coming months.
Before heading back to Armenia, co-founder of YBAF Fabio Lenzi, an Italian native, met with Asbarez to further discuss the Foundation’s mission to create bridges through art, culture, and education.
Aleen Arslanian: Can you tell us a bit about yourself – how you ended up in Armenia, and what prompted the creation of the YBAF?
Fabio Lenzi: I studied economics and ended up in Armenia in 2013 for a report for “Foreign Affairs Magazine.” After that, I left the country and came back several times. In January 2016, I opened a consulting firm in Armenia. In early 2018, through the business consulting company, we decided to start this endeavor in the cultural and artistic fields, which led us to organize the largest contemporary art exhibition ever done in the region. We learned a lot about the gaps in the market, the gaps in the infrastructure, and what was needed in order to raise the standards in this field in Armenia. That was our trial, with the vision to one day organize the Biennial.
The YBAF was incorporated in December 2019, after a full year of trying to figure out if I would want to continue this journey. I approached the Hovnanian International founding family and they liked the idea – we share the same vision. Ultimately, our vision is to have Armenia become a strong hub in the region for art and culture. We want to have people look at Armenia as a tourist destination; not only for religious tourism, but to actually enjoy Armenia as country in its fullest – the food, religion, art, culture, and music.
A.A.: Will the YBAF be collaborating with any organizations?
F.L.: As a foundation, we are trying to create ties with all the major, currently existing cultural centers and creative institutions in Armenia. We have spoken to TUMO center, we have already cooperated with Children of Armenia Fund, and we have a standing agreement with the American University of Armenia. We plan on taking part in the Art Fair in Yerevan this summer, and, to go even a bit further, taking part in the Tibilisi Art Fair. The idea is to work with whoever is willing to collaborate with us, as cooperation is the most important aspect.
A.A.: Are Yerevan-based artists currently involved in the Foundation?
F.L.: We have an Art Advisory Board, which is comprised of five local, Armenia-based art experts. These Board members are local experts in the fields of art and culture. They will help steer the foundation in the right direction when certain decisions need to be made – in terms of what is necessary for Armenia – and to make sure that the decisions made are not something I myself, as a foreigner, or the other international experts, want to mandate. Instead, it’s something that we need to decide together, understanding what it is that the country actually needs, and our advisory board, better than anybody else, can support us in that.
A.A.: What activities will the Foundation be involved in throughout the year?
F.L.: As of now, we are creating our strategic plan. We have a pretty clear idea of what will be the main focus of the Foundation. One main focus is education and the other main focus is art and culture. But, as our Head of Exhibitions & Production Raj Sandu loves to say, “We are looking at education through the lens of creativity.” So, everything that we are getting involved in, in education, will be within the art and cultural fields. Although the Biennial will be a big chunk of the Foundation’s activities – which will take place every two years.
A.A.: Whose art will the Biennial feature?
F.L.: The biennial will feature up to 40 artists. It’s an international exhibition, so the artists will be coming from a variety of countries. Among these participants there will also be Armenians from the Diaspora, and there will be a percentage of local Armenian artists, as well. Although our curated exhibition will probably have about 10 to 15 percent of Armenia-based artists, the whole Biennial will be full of Armenian art, because all of these other self-organized initiatives are initiated by the local cultural artists and institutes. That’s where we need them to begin their own initiatives.
A.A.: Can you tell me a bit about Latitude?
F.L.: Latitude is an art space that was opened in November 2019. It’s an asset of the Foundation. Latitude is 400 sqm art space which we have envisioned as a nonprofit space, which means that everything that is done inside Latitude will directly and indirectly benefit the Foundation. If we decide to do an exhibition at Latitude and there’s something for sale, the profits from that sale will be donated to the Foundation. If we organize a paid workshop, we will use the money to organize a second workshop, but for kids from a school that cannot afford that workshop. We always try to use the space thinking about a secondary social program. This space will also be used for all the educational programs that we organize. There are some aspects of the educational programs that might need a physical space where you want to, for example, learn how to handle artwork. These portions of the workshop will be held at Latitude. It’s a very flexible space. We are now working on organizing evening classes for meditation, art therapy, yoga, English lessons, and more. It’s a self-sustainable space that we welcome everyone to join and share their ideas and creativity with.
A.A.: Will the Foundation create job opportunities for local Armenians?
F.L.: Yes. We have a part of the team that is international, because we’re trying to bring in as much expertise as possible. The purpose of bringing these experts in is to train – to shift this know-how to –local Armenians, to eventually have more local Armenians on the team. In several educational programs that we are organizing, we are already envisioning of hiring a number of the students that will be participating in these programs. It will also create opportunities in the regions outside of Yerevan, because the aim of our programs is to reach out to students and young professionals from the regions, work with them, and send them back with a higher level of knowledge. We hope to create exchange programs for local Armenians to travel outside of the country and partner with international galleries, artists, museums, and various international cultural centers. The foundation absolutely aims at creating opportunities for Armenian natives.
To learn more about the Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation and the 2020 Yerevan Biennial, visit the Foundation’s website, or Twitter and Instagram pages. To donate to the Foundation, please email [email protected]