American, born in Armenia, 1909-1992
In 1915 Koren Der Harootian, his mother, and siblings fled Armenia to escape the persecution and genocide of the ruling Turks. They first went to Russia and eventually immigrated to the United States where they settled in an Armenian community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Der Harootian studied painting at the school of the local museum and independently developed his skill with watercolor landscapes. While living in Jamaica in the 1930s he befriended sculptor Edna Manley (1900–1987) whose primitive, eroticizing style had a profound impact on his work. Eventually, Der Harootian began to carve figure sculptures in wood and stone using handmade tools. Together, Manley and Der Harootian offered an alternative to sedate artistic traditions and stimulated a new genre steeped in Jamaican culture.
The story of Prometheus had great resonance during this time. According to ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus refused to obey Zeus’s command that humans be left to perish in their miserable primitive condition. Prometheus defied Zeus by giving humans fire, launching a new era of progress, learning, and culture. Angered, Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a high mountain where each day a vulture would tear Prometheus’s flesh and eat his liver. At night his body would heal so that the punishment could begin again. Finally, after thirteen human generations, the half-divine hero Hercules liberated Prometheus.
In Prometheus and Vulture, the hero strains against his chains, reeling in pain, as the vulture plunges for his daily attack. Prometheus is understood to be the god of foresight; knowing that he would eventually be released, he endured hundreds of years of torment in order to bring critical knowledge to humans. Though primitive in style, Der Harootian’s narratives and his penchant for symbolism recall the ancient Greeks. He favored classical and religious subjects as metaphors for the fears, violence, and conflicts of World War II. Many people in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America also suffered bitterly during the war. But, like Prometheus, they believed their struggle was critical to the advancement of mankind and that they would eventually be released from oppression and torment.
Location: Bass Concert Hall Lobby, Sixth Floor