Dana Walrath: The Art to Heal and Pave the Path Forward for Armenia

Dana Walrath is a true Renaissance Woman — an esteemed medical anthropologist, creative writer and poet, and a visual artist. We are proud that she also is an AUA supporter. 

A second-generation Armenian on her mother’s side, Walrath was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, but grew up in New York City. Her first visit to Armenia was in 1977, travelling with her family. Her next trip back was years later in 2012, when she was in Armenia for a year as a Fulbright Scholar. Based as a researcher and lecturer at the American University of Armenia (AUA) Turpanjian School of Public Health, Walrath spent much of her time with students at the University, most of whom were women pursuing their Master’s in Public Health. 

It was this experience that drew her closer to AUA and its mission. The recent decision by the University to start a new undergraduate degree program in Nursing inspired her to auction off her original works of art, Circles, Birds, and Vegetation, and gift to AUA a set of her limited edition prints of those works. The funds raised will be used to establish the Aghavni Mashoian Walrath Scholarship fund, named after Dana’s mother Alice, specifically to benefit and empower young women from the regions of Armenia to study at AUA. 

Circles, Birds, and Vegetation by Dana Walrath (graphite & collage, 70 cm by 1 meter each)

The three original works of art are a combination of graphite and collage, which she created by cutting up pieces of a soviet-era atlas of Armenia and a copy of a book of illuminated manuscripts the Matenadaran had published in the 1970’s that she had found already cut up at the Vernissage, an outdoor market in Yerevan. Returning to Yerevan in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar, she was determined to work on a project that would build upon her book, Aliceheimer’s, a graphic novel she had written about her mother’s journey with Alzheimer's, when she had found inspiration in cutting up a paperback copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Like Water on Stone and Aliceheimer’s, by Dana Walrath

In that same year of her return to Armenia, Yerevan was named the UNESCO Book Capital of the world, leading Dana to ask herself, “How am I really going to show the value of cutting up books in a country that has recorded one of the highest literacy rates among others in the world?” Determined to complete her work, she used the cut-up pieces of the book to create the three original art works, subsequently producing 100 limited edition archival pigment prints in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, some of which she has gifted to AUA. 

Walrath grew up taking in the great experiences of the world, which even included a stint living in Yemen and Egypt. Currently based in Vermont, Walrath lives quaintly in the green environment that surrounds her. Drawing inspiration from nature, she comments, “I feel very connected and grounded to the earth and I really think that this connection is a response to having a homeland taken away.” As a descendant of Genocide survivors on her mother’s maternal and paternal sides, Walrath explains becoming slowly exposed to her Armenian identity growing up, which led her to take an Armenian language course in college during her time at Columbia. When asked what fueled that, she responds, “The hole. Knowing that here was this piece of my identity that I knew nothing about yet I knew that my mother carried pain within her and I knew there was a lot of pain and suffering in my extended family.” She then adds, “When we went to Yerevan in 1977, I just fell in love with it. I felt like ‘This is home. This is part of me and I want to know more’. And it took until college for me to really discover it more.” Her dive into her family history would later influence her award-winning book, Like Water on Stone.

After obtaining her BA in visual arts and biology from Barnard College, Columbia University, Walrath’s academic attainments grew to include an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and subsequently a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. With a strong background in academia, she comments on her time at AUA as a Fulbright Scholar, saying, “I was really impressed with the quality of AUA students and really impressed with the quality of the program that was being delivered under Dr. Varduhi Petrosyan’s excellent leadership.” 

Believing that education is the path forward for Armenia, she highlights the institution’s affiliation with the University of California, saying that “because of the really good standards that are incorporated into the UC system, AUA is in a strong position to really lead the country.” 

AUA is grateful to Dana Walrath for her contribution to the University, and is hopeful for new collaboration opportunities her artwork will spark, further empowering female students to harness the potential of their academic careers at AUA. 

To learn more about the AUA art auction, visit http://aua.cbo.io

 

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.