Hats of Mr. Zenobe, The (Performance Series)

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I first became aware of the story of Vahan Poladian, the inspiration for Mr. Zenobe, through my colleague Agnès Limbos to whom I had sent some rough notes on the new piece I was working on. One day I received a phone call from Agnès, who was on tour in Switzerland. She had just visited the Musée de L’Art Brut (Outsider Art Museum) in Lausanne and seen Vahan Poladian’s remarkable collection housed there. Strangely enough, his story dovetailed with many of the ideas that I had sent to Agnès just months earlier. I travelled to Lausanne myself, and spent an incredible day looking at Poladian’s creations and screening the short film Monsieur Poladian á St. Raphael. I was shocked and astonished by his story of exile, crumbled spirit, then spectacular transformation of creative ardour, verve, and passion. Vahan Poladian was born in Kayseri, Turkey in 1902. The Turks began systematically killing the Armenians in 1915, with a death toll that reached 1.5 million. Poladian’s family fled the country. With the assistance of relatives, Poladian attempted to immigrate to the USA, but he was refused entry. He went instead to Cuba, where he worked as a travelling salesman. But this did not last long. Poladian was able to return to Europe when France accepted him as an immigrant. He settled in Paris, where he made contact with the expatriate Armenian community. Poladian married an Armenian woman who bore him a daughter, Viviane. With the onset of the Second World War, however, Poladian was conscripted by the French Army, and forced to leave his family. His unit was captured by the Germans and Poladian was sent to a POW camp. Upon his release at the end of the war, Poladian made his way back to Paris, only to discover that his wife and child had disappeared. For several years he searched in vain for them. His mother had also immigrated to France and he was briefly reunited with her after the war. She died soon after, however, and her death and the loss of his wife and child was a devastating shock for Poladian. Poladian became "socially autistic," closing off the world. In 1966, at the age of 64, he entered the Armenian Home in St. Raphael, France. He would spend his remaining years there. The Home gave Poladian a stipend of one franc a day, which he used to create an amazing phantasmagoria of hats and costumes. Twice daily he paraded through the streets of St. Raphael, showing his collection of "Ancient Terrors and Glories," always with "the hope to change the world with laughter." Vahan Poladian died quietly in the Armenian Home in 1982 after refusing to eat. Part of his enormous collection of hats and costumes was donated to the Musée de L’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.— Robert Astle - from Amzon 
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