Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence, the first mid-career survey of the artist’s work, explores the myriad ways in which contested histories are narrated and distributed through images.
Jointly organised by Sharjah Art Foundation, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm and the Bonnefanten, Maastricht, the exhibition is Sarkissian's most extensive presentation to date. Having garnered initial training in his father’s photo lab, ‘Dream Color’, in Damascus, Sarkissian went on to study visual art in the Netherlands where he continued using analogue photography as his primary medium. Captivated by the possibilities of the medium, Sarkissian seeks to make evident the invisible narratives that live behind the unresolved wounds of conflict.
The large-scale photographs that Sarkissian produces are developed using a large format camera—a life-long practice which relates to the artist’s interest in the role that ‘chance’ plays in capturing hidden narratives through lens-based media. Acting simultaneously as an archaeologist and storyteller, the artist employs photographic techniques to conjure landscapes that uncover historical traumas. Drawing upon personal and collective memory, Sarkissian’s artworks navigate stories that official records and sources cannot tell. Through researched and choreographed scenes, he invites the viewer to consider the formal aspects of the image; to ‘breathe in’ their silence, leaving room for one to evaluate what might exist beneath its surface.
Over the past two decades, Sarkissian’s practice has evolved to encompass moving images, sculpture, sound and installation. His multi-form practice seeks to consider notions of artefact and artifice as well as memory and absence, offering his subjects a space for restitution.
The Other Side of Silence explores histories of disappearance, the architecture of violence and the potential of the medium of photography itself. Anchoring this exhibition are two major commissions: a photographic installation, Last Seen (2021), commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation and Little Apple (working title) (2021/2022), commissioned by the Bonnefanten. The exhibition features an expansive presentation of many of the artist’s major works produced since 2006, including Unfinished and In Between (both 2006), Execution Squares (2008) and Final Flight (2017–2019).
Bonniers Konsthall is producing Sarkissian's first major monograph, edited by Kholeif and Ringborg. It will be published by Bonniers Kontshall in collaboration with Lenz Press and designed by Hans Gremmen. The book features original scholarly contributions from major figures, including Marianne Hirsch (Professor, Columbia University); Hannah Feldman (Associate Professor, Northwestern University); Todd Reisz (writer and architect); and Vali Mahlouji (curator and psychoanalyst). A major essay by Kholeif contextualises the artist’s practice alongside an exploratory text by Ringborg. The foreword is written jointly by Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Ringborg and Huijts. The monograph will be available at the exhibition opening in Sharjah in autumn 2021.
Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence is curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation; Dr Theodor Ringborg, Artistic Director, Bonniers Konsthall; and Stijn Huijts, Artistic Director, the Bonnefanten. The exhibition will be on view at Sharjah Art Foundation from 30 October 2021 to 30 January 2022 and Bonniers Konsthall from 26 April to 19 June 2022 before travelling to the Bonnefanten, where it will be on view from 17 November 2022 to 14 May 2023.
Hrair Sarkissian’s photographs reflect on personal memories, using subjectivity as a way to navigate stories that official histories are unable to tell. Using traditional documentary techniques in large-scale works, he engages the viewer in a profound consideration of what lies behind the surface of the images, thereby re-evaluating larger historical or social narratives.
In conjunction with the exhibition Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence, on view at Sharjah Art Foundation from 30 October 2021 to 30 January 2022, this conversation between the artist Hrair Sarkissian and the curator Dr Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation, will discuss Sarkissian’s newly commissioned works as well as his journey as an artist and the ever-present themes of memory, trauma, history, loss and belonging.