Sevag is a US-born Armenian artist, whose parents moved from Lebanon in the ‘70s to escape the civil war. He lived in Europe for a while before moving back to Los Angeles where his artistic production ranges from painting and installations to theatre and cinema.
“The challenges of adapting in this setting enabled me to understand how to jump back and forth between contrasting environments, personalities, and traditions”.
What do you consider your nationality to be?
I was born in California, but I was raised Armenian. My parents moved to the United States of America in the late ‘70s escaping a civil war that broke out in Lebanon. Their parents (my grandparents) were relocated due to the Armenian Genocide, being put in an orphanage as young children fleeing the Ottoman Turks in 1915.
Can you tell us your story as a Foreigner?
Can you tell us about your story as a Foreigner?
From a young age, I was enrolled in an Armenian private school in Los Angeles. My world was very Armenian. It wasn't until the 4th grade that my parents chose to enroll my siblings and myself into the local public school system. It was a transition from a small classroom where the teachers were friends with my parents and I was exposed only to mys native tongue to a school system overrun with a variety of cultures, overcrowded classrooms, and exposure to behaviors I didn't know existed.
It was a shock to my internal, 9-year-old system. However, the weight of this bizarre world was shared with my twin sister. Though we dealt with our accents and foreign names being ridiculed, it did not take long to learn how things worked in this new world. The new and different became a secret I would be able to share with the previously Armenian-only world. The challenges of adapting in this setting enabled me to understand how to jump back and forth between contrasting environments, personalities, and traditions.
What made your family want to stay?
The option to stay or leave was never available to my family. As a child I was at the mercy of my parents to choose whether we remained living in the United States. My parents were at the mercy of political unrest in Lebanon, their parents and my great-grandparents were victims of a genocide. Each generation has had a new host country, new customs, and a new language to master; all while bearing the responsibilities of ensuring the survival of the Armenian traditions as well.
Do you think your experience as an artist would have been the same if your family stayed in your country of origin? Would you be able to produce the same work outside the US?
Whether my parents stayed in Lebanon or if my grandparents remained in Armenia, the world I was exposed to within the household would have been the same. It is the cuisine, art, music, and history that paved the grounds of my interests. I have followed the arts in some form or the other, so I don't think my profession would have been altered too much based on where I lived, simply because the world my family would have created for ourselves would have been consistent.
How do your origins inspire your work? What about the local influence?
I am very connected to my ethnicity and history. This connection is apparent in the art I have produced, consciously or not. However, I cannot deny the influence of being exposed to a plethora of cultures that are at hand in Los Angeles or by those that have inspired me during my travels (www.sev86.com).
How is your work usually received by local people? Do you have any specific story?
When local communities perceive my work, there is a clash of multiple worlds. The Armenian world is found in the symbolism I use, repeated characters and cultural icons, the American world peaks through the world of my education, it blends psychology with theatre and lastly, the world of my imagination that resonates with playfulness and curiosity.
The Armenians who look at my work see an American, the Americans witness a foreigner (the Armenian), but I see the fusing world of imagination that allows me to create and break the barrier between the two and add my own views.
Where is home?
It is difficult to state where home is as there isn't one location that I fully belong to. If I move to Armenia, as many of my friends have recently, I'm considered a foreigner. Though I share the culture and tongue, I'm not purely Armenian in their eyes. However, living in the States, I'm always Armenian first.
I believe it is the process of recreating certain aspects of each world you're exposed to, allowing cultures to undergo a filtering process and highlighting your favorite parts, and finally fusing them together that has enabled my family and myself to call anywhere home. As long as there are others to share in this joy and celebration, the difficulties of the process seem minute.
What words/ideas do you associate with 'Foreigner'?
Over time the word foreigner has changed for me. I've seen the transformation of how I come to think of the term. The black and white world of my youth has evolved to a greyer one. I find it more difficulty now to define what a foreigner is. It is more apparent to ask "where" than "what" a foreigner is. A foreigner isn't a constant, therefore, it can be interchanged with a local should the "where" of the two be switched.