Renowned artist who fled Ukraine war holds exhibition and masterclass at Wirral Met College

An internationally renowned artist who fled the war in Ukraine has held an exhibition and live painting masterclass at Wirral Met College, where he now studies English.

Aram Manukyan left his home near the country’s western border after the Russian invasion, returning months later to rescue his paintings.

Last year he and his wife Roksi moved to Birkenhead under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the couple have been studying English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) at Wirral Met College.

To show his appreciation and to help budding local artists, Aram has presented an exhibition of his rescued artworks and a live painting masterclass for the art department and fellow ESOL students.

The show was made possible by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Test and Learn programme, which was launched to address market failures in adult skills delivery. The pioneering scheme uses 5% of the city region’s annual £54m adult education budget to encourage innovation in teaching.

Marion Atkinson, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Portfolio Holder for Employment, Education and Skills for 2023/24 said, “Test and Learn has allowed our colleges and education providers to explore their creativity in so many different ways with amazing results.

“The ability to experiment with ideas that would not normally be funded has driven innovation in many areas from the development of new skills courses to the creation of a new qualification in childcare provision.

“This masterclass and exhibition has provided a unique opportunity for art students to observe a professional at work and also allowed ESOL learners to interact and learn at the same time.”

Aram, 59, was born in Georgia and studied at the Academy of Arts in Tbilisi followed by the Stieglitz Academy in St Petersburg, where he lived for seven years.

He worked among a group of artists including film director Sergei Parajanov, whose acclaimed feature The Colour of Pomegranates is listed in the British Film Institute’s Greatest Films of All Time.

In 2011 Aram moved to Ukraine and continued working there until Russia invaded. He has previously exhibited around the world, including Naples and Rome. His work is featured in private collections in Ukraine, USA, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia.

In March, a three-day exhibition of dozens of his paintings opened at Wirral Met College’s Twelve Quays Campus in Birkenhead. The event was funded through the Liverpool City Region’s Test and Learn programme. Aram also created an abstract painting beginning with a blank canvas in front of a live audience.

The Combined Authority has been responsible for commissioning and funding adult education since 2019. The annual £54m adult education budget (AEB) funds a range of colleges, independent training providers and local authority providers of adult and community learning.

Wirral Met College has developed an innovative ESOL programme through Test and Learn to help refugees and asylum seekers settle into local life, including classes based around crown green bowls and interacting with dementia residents through creative, hands-on activities.

Nicky Taylor, ESOL & BSL Manager said, “Aram is a true reflection of how the Test and Learn programme has enabled creativity to flourish. Aram’s level of language is secondary to his talent and his enthusiasm to share his skills with Wirral Met Art students.

“The masterclass was inspirational! I spoke with Aram after the exhibition and he was absolutely blown away with the interest and passion from students to his work during the Q&A session. In Aram’s words he “felt like a superstar and English didn’t matter!”

Aram said, “I’m really happy to be here and enjoying studying English. This is a place I have always dreamed about being and my dreams are coming true every day. I always wanted to study language but never had the time and didn’t take it seriously.

“This exhibition means a lot to me. I feel like I can be useful here for the students by showing them how I work in the studio and how to paint abstract paintings. I always wanted to study the technique of a professional artist when I was studying art but it wasn’t standard practice at the time in the Soviet Union.

“When the war started, we lived near the airport and it was scary when they started bombing in the morning so we left the following day for Poland with just one backpack.

“We thought it wouldn’t last for long, but then a few months passed and I understood the war would go on for a long time. I was worried because my paintings, which I had put so much work into, were still in the studio, so we decided to go back and get them.

“We stayed for a week because it was a long process. I have got lots of paintings and I had to choose which to take. I decided to take all the latest works and leave the earlier ones.

“I took the canvases out of the frames and rolled them up – as many as I could manage – but half of them are still there.”

Image: Aram Manukyan

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