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Swallows and Armenians

A multi-media exhibition by Karen Babayan




Showing at

Gallery One & Two

Thursday 4 June – Saturday 18 July
Free entry

Open 10.00am-5.00pm Monday-Friday and 10.00am-4.00pm Saturday
(not including Bank Holidays and Public Holidays - please check before travelling on these days)

Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons is a classic book about children having adventures on a lake. The Walker family have always been depicted as quintessentially English in the book, film and TV versions of the story; but what is not so widely known is that Ransome modelled his characters on the Altounyans, an Anglo-Armenian family from Aleppo, Syria. Swallows and Armenians reinstates the cultural diversity of the children who inspired Ransome with this touring exhibition of contemporary multi-media works by Babayan and historic paintings from the family’s own collection.

These include portraits and scenes by Dora Altounyan and include the iconic portrait of Titty as a child in Ransome’s possession for many years.  Works by Mavis (Titty) Guzelian and WG Collingwood will also be shown.  A book of short stories by Karen Babayan is brought to life in audio.  Narrated by actor Persia Babayan-Taylor, the stories re-imagine the family in Coniston, Cumbria and Aleppo, Syria.

This project reappraises a children’s classic, uncovering and celebrating the ethnic richness of English culture.  Swallows and Armenians is supported by Arts Council England and the Queen’s Hall.

Image: Karen Babayan Never Grow Up, acrylic on canvas 2017; Here are the Swallows! Model boat with digital print 2017

Special Events: Saturday 6 June

10.00am - 12 noon: Treasure Islands and Fantastic Beasts!
A FREE drop-in map-making workshop for families. Materials provided.

2.00pm - 5.00pm: Stories We Are Told
A workshop for adults inspired by the stories in the exhibition. Explore themes of identity & hidden histories through relief print. 
£40 per person (materials provided) Book here

7.00pm Hexham Library
Artist’s Talk, book reading and signing followed by The Circle of Life dance event, a project by Shakeh Major Tchilingirian, a renowned dance artist based in London, who brings an Armenian cultural tradition to Northumberland.
£4.00 includes a glass of wine. Book here


Karen Babayan: Born in Iran to Armenian/British parents, Babayan moved to Leeds following the Islamic Revolution in 1977.  Latterly she lived in the Hyde Park area of Leeds, a stone’s throw from the house in which Arthur Ransome was born, passing by it nearly every day.  She has lived in Appleby, Cumbria since 2009.  An established artist, Babayan has had over 20 solo shows and participated in more than 50 group exhibitions since 1990, including The Tetley Contemporary Art Gallery, Leeds and The Harris Art Gallery, Preston; Peterborough, Bury and Huddersfield Art Galleries and the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London. Internationally, she has had solo shows at the Yervand Kochar Gallery, Yerevan, Armenia and Samuel Zacks Gallery, Toronto, Canada. In 2016 she gained a PhD in Contemporary Art Practice from Leeds Beckett University, was awarded C-Art Cumbria Artist of the Year and completed a commission for the Eden Rivers Trust trail in Appleby with fellow artist Debra Estherhuizen. Karen is also a curator, delivering nine exhibitions for Highlights Rural Touring, of which Craft+Conflict in 2018 attracted over 8,000 visitors to three venues in Cumbria alone and over 10,000 visitors to rural and non-gallery venues across the three counties of the north of England.

Persia Babayan-Taylor is an actor-musician who graduated from Guildford School of Acting. She has a wealth of experience which showcases her versatility as an actor and director. In 2019 she produced and co-directed Swallows and Armenians and Us! a performance by Young Company at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Persia has narrated the audio for the book Swallows and Armenians.

Shakeh Major Tchilingirian is an acclaimed choreographer and performer based in London. Her dance interpretation highlights the spirituality of Armenian dance and her work is the focus of an award-winning documentary film Verve by Nigol Bezjian. In recognition of her distinctive approach, Major Tchilingirian is regularly invited to give dance workshops in Europe, the US and the Middle East. 

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Enjoy dinner before the show with 20% off your bill with our Season Sponsor, The Beaumont Hotel 
Click here for more details 
[Offer valid on date of event. One ticket per table.]

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