In Yerevan’s Victory Park, an enormous copper statue of a woman brandishing a sword stands sentinel over the city. “Mother Armenia” is a symbol of national strength and reverence for women, but photographer Anahit Hayrapetyan says women in her country often don’t enjoy the freedom and respect the statue evokes.
“mOther Armenia,” an exhibition of the work of ten women photographers held in 2013, was one of the first projects of 4Plus, an Armenian organization co-founded by Hayrapetyan that seeks to empower women through photography. The title is a play on the name of the statue, and refers to the exhibition’s ten photo collections, each of which highlighted a different problem facing women in Armenia, such as transgender issues, violence against women, and treatment of Yazidi girls and refugee women.
One subsequent exhibition organized by 4Plus has sought to illustrate taboos associated with the types of professions women can have, defiantly featuring photographs of women taxi drivers, boxers, and war veterans. Another exhibition showcased non-thematic documentary photography done by women.
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“We noticed that there are many women working in the field in Armenia, our friends and colleagues,” said Hayrapetyan. “But women have fewer opportunities and more limitations in their work, so we decided to come together and help each other.”
Hayrapetyan, whose photographs have been published widely in local and international media, including by RFE/RL, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and Eurasianet, co-founded 4Plus in 2013. Her partners are Nazik Armenakyan, a former freelance photographer with Agence France-Presse and Reuters, who now works for the website ArmeniaNow; and Anush Babajanyan, who has worked as a photographer for several NGOs, and in 2013 received a production grant from the Open Society Foundation’s Documentary Photography Project to photograph Armenian women’s labor migration to Turkey, a project she continues to work on.
In addition to organizing exhibitions of photography by and about women, 4Plus holds training sessions with internationally renowned photographers, arranges workshops and feedback for women photographers who would otherwise be working in isolation, and publishes collections of women’s photography.
Hayrapetyan says this year 4Plus aims to expand beyond the capital city and bring training and exhibitions to regional cities in Armenia.
“I believe that visual art and photography can change society,” said Hayrapetyan. “They can show the many things we can do other than having babies and taking care of kids.”