System of a Down’s Serj Tankian Talks Visual Art, New Film ‘Truth to Power’

Kelsey Chapstick

System of a Down's Serj Tankian; Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA

In a recent sit-down with the Vivian Gallery in Matakana, New Zealand — which is displaying an exhibit of his work titled “Teetering on the Edge” — System of a Down singer and solo artist Serj Tankian opens up about his foray into visual art, as well as an upcoming film he’s working on that aims to shed light on music as a gateway to “the truth,” including that about the Armenian genocide of 1915.

The frontman talks about getting his start in painting and sculpture by imagining what his music “would look like.” He discusses the first piece he created based on this concept, recalling that it “was a representation of a musical composition I had done on piano, and I even put in the musical clefs and the notes using clocks without arms … then painted the whole thing.” Tankian admits that he has at times — like many artists who transition from creating music to creating visual pieces — questioned the validity of the work, but says he ultimately decided that his original creations were “really unique” and something he enjoyed making.

The singer also expounds on an upcoming cinematic project that ties into his creativity across media. “We’re making a film called — tentatively called —Truth to Power based on that concept and based on things that I’ve shot over the years,” explains Tankian in reference to a sculptural painting he created that prominently features the phrase “Music is a doorway to the truth.” He notes that the phrase encapsulates the arc of his career in music and activism, and that the resulting movie will be shown at film festivals “in the coming year.” Further detailing the inspirational piece, Tankian calls it interactive, funny and “not for everyone.” The colorful conglomeration of tiles featuring politically charged phrases can be moved to show or cover certain segments as desired by the viewer. Watch the full Q&A below.