Peggy Hinaekian: Painting and Writing Avidly
By Artsvi Bakhchinyan
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
YEREVAN/GENEVA — Peggy Hinaekian is an artist and author living in the US (Florida and California) and Switzerland. Born and raised in Egypt, she immigrated to Canada with her first husband and then went on to the United States, where she pursued a career in fashion design and fine arts. After her divorce, she moved to Geneva, and continued her career as an artist. She has exhibited extensively in galleries and art fairs worldwide. Hinaekian’s works figure in numerous private and corporate collections, notably in various financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland. Her paintings are also in three museums. She exhibits frequently in Switzerland and in the United States.
Dear Peggy, you come from Armenian community of Egypt during its now-passed prosperous times. What was it like for an Armenian child to be raised in the Egyptian-Armenian community?
Life was wonderful in Egypt. The Armenians, like other ethnic minorities, had their own schools, social clubs, sporting clubs and churches. My paternal grandfather came to Egypt as a tobacco merchant from Yerzenga (now in Turkey). He died when my father was 1; therefore neither of us knew him. My maternal grandfather came to Egypt from Lancashire, England, where he had a textile firm and was exporting cotton from Egypt for his cotton mill. His ancestors had moved to England during the first Turkish massacres. He died during the Second World War and I never met him either. My paternal grandmother also came from Yerzenga. As for my maternal grandmother, her family had escaped the Turkish massacres and gone to Greece, and then to Egypt. Both of my parents were born in Egypt. I went to Armenian Elementary school at first, where we were taught four languages, then continued my education in an English school.
Do you continue your journal that you began at the age of 12?
I have written a journal since age 12 but stopped doing so after getting married. I am currently writing my memoir. It will be in three volumes. The first will cover my life in Heliopolis, Egypt, Montreal and Manhattan, until my divorce. The second volume will be my life in Geneva, Switzerland, my wild single years and the ups and downs of being single and sowing my wild oats. The third volume will cover my second marriage with my children and all my travels from one continent to the other, describing my chaotic life of bringing up the children and continuing with my artistic career simultaneously. I am very much a multitasker. One has one life to live and I am adamant in making the most of it.
You lead a creative life, painting and writing. Which you consider yourself to be more – an artist or a writer?
At first, I considered myself an artist but after I published my first fictional novel, Of Julia and Men, I considered myself both an artist and a writer. I say fictional here because most of my readers think this is an autobiography. They associate Julia with me. It is certainly not my life but it is similar. The settings are authentic, though, as I have travelled to all these places. I have also written whimsical short stories which have been published in magazines in the US They have been published separately as booklets of short stories with an original, signed drawing on the inside of the back cover.
In your biography there is also an episode when you worked as a fashion designer.
Fashion designing had been my dream since a very young age. As a kid, I was designing all the clothes of my extended family and I dreamt of going to New York to practice this activity. I did, both in Boston and in Manhattan. However, painting took precedence over it and I gave up fashion designing. Life in New York was too hectic for me. I was making loads of money but had no time to spend it. That is when I decided to go to Switzerland where I had to change careers. In order to be able to live and work in Switzerland I had to work for the United Nations which gave me the necessary work permit. I never gave up my painting though. I was frenetically painting and exhibiting.
Is there anything that we could characterize as Armenian in your paintings and writings?
My artistic career took off in Switzerland. There is nothing really Armenian in my paintings. Some of my etchings tend to be oriental in their style, being very detailed and colorful. At first, I was fascinated with the theme of man/woman relationships, then my theme became abstract landscapes, all imaginary renderings of the ocean and the desert. My paintings have been titled “Blue Reveries and Red Desert Scapes” in newspaper articles. As for my writings, I often depict a Middle Eastern woman in them. Julia is a Lebanese young woman born in Egypt who wants to shed the conventional lifestyle in the Middle East to live life as a free woman in Europe. Much like myself when I grew up. I wanted to work and be independent. I did not like the constraints put on women in the Middle East. At that time, a young woman working outside the home was not considered to be quite acceptable.
You gave two of your sons Armenian names – Varoujan Daniel and Vartan. Daniel Messier has acted in about 30 American films and TV series, and last year shot his first film. Because he took after you he often played the roles of Latinos as well as Armenian characters. And I highly hope that finally the ambitious project “East of Byzantium: War Gods and Warrior Saints” will be released this year, where Daniel acted as Armenian king Tiridates III.
I married my second husband, an American, in Geneva and he insisted that we give our sons Armenian names. I chose my two heroes, Vartan and Varoujan. My father who was an Armenophile, wrote two poems in Armenian about my sons. Vartan, our younger son, is a professor of comparative literature in a university in New York.
You are an avid traveler. Have you ever been in Armenia? It will be great to host your exhibition here, to have your novel Of Julia and Men translated into Armenian…
I was an avid traveler and regret the fact that I have never been to Armenia. I do have several Armenian friends from Armenia who are urging me to take the trip, but I don’t know if I can survive the jet lag. It would be great if my novel were translated into Armenian. I am hoping to find a sponsor to cover the expense. I did translate it into French and this version will soon be published.
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