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Swallows and Armenians

A multi-media exhibition by Karen Babayan




Showing at

Gallery One & Two

Saturday 23 October - Saturday 20 November 
Free entry

Open Monday - Saturday: 10am - 4pm

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

Artist’s Talk & ‘Circle of Life’ Dance Event
Saturday 23 October: from 3pm

A very special opportunity to hear artist and author Karen Babayan talk about her extensive research and discoveries on the inspiring and often tumultuous relationship between Arthur Ransomes and the Altounyans, models for the Walker family of his iconic book, Swallows and Amazons.

Our audience will then be invited to join us in a special Circle of Life dance event led by acclaimed choreographer, teacher and performer Shakeh Major Tchilingirian, in acknowledgment of the contribution made by the Altounyan and Collingwood familes in relief efforts following the Armenian Genocide 1915-1923.  No dance experience necessary, all ages welcome. Book online now.

Family Mapmaking Workshop
Saturday 13 November: 10am - 12, 1 - 3pm

A family-friendly adventure map-making workshop. Use your imagination to create a land full of fantastic beasts and locations or simply map yourself!  This could be a mind map, an imaginary or real map. We’ll look at Arthur Ransome’s maps and compare them to Karen’s own Map Book for Young Explorers on show in the exhibition. An opportunity for families to spend quality time together making something to treasure. Suitable for ages 6-100!  Please book as places are limited. Book online now.



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.

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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