Background, 2012. Series of 6 Duratrans, C-prints (backlit paper); 180 x 230 cm each

The Other Side of Silence is Hrair Sarkissian’s most extensive presentation to date. Jointly organised by Sharjah Art Foundation, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm and the Bonnefanten, Maastricht, the exhibition brings together two major new commissions by the artist and more than a dozen of his most significant bodies of work from the past 15 years. The exhibition opens 30 October 2021 at Sharjah Art Foundation.

Captivated by the possibilities of the medium, Sarkissan has long worked with analogue photography, using a large-format camera to produce life-sized photographs—a medium that Sarkissian has noted enables the thrill and experience that ‘chance’ plays in capturing time in an age that is over-saturated with digital cameras and hyper-saturated image culture. Spanning photography, moving image, sculpture, sound and installation, Sarkissian’s practice creates meditative dreamscapes in some moments; deathscapes in others—sites where the muted voice, absent from the frame, is temporarily offered space to breathe.

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 reveals the artist’s timely exploration of the histories of disappearance; the architecture of violence and that which exists in the interstices, withheld from official record or history.

In Between, 2006. Series of 16 framed archival inkjet prints; 120 x 175 cm each
In Between, 2006. Series of 16 framed archival inkjet prints; 120 x 175 cm each

In his earliest work in the exhibition, Unfinished (2006), Sarkissian presents, for the first time, his long-researched photo-serial on the decaying and uncompleted monuments of the contemporary Middle East. Presented alongside this is Last Seen (2018-2021), the artist’s most ambitious project to date. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation, these 50 photographs represent the lives of families whose loved ones unexpectedly “disappeared” during times of conflict. Sarkissian spent time with families with an aim to resuscitate the memory of those individuals ‘lost’ to history—withheld from life or death, in Argentina, Bosnia, Brazil Kosovo and Lebanon. A single click presents the site of their last appearance—sites that became memorials in their own right.

In Between (2006), a series of 16 images of Armenian landscapes blanketed in snow reflects the artist’s attempts to reconcile the memories passed down from his grandfather’s Armenian heritage and his life as a refugee in Syria, where he would learn the practice of photography working in his father’s photo studio as a youth. This relationship is explored in Sarkissian’s photo installation, My Father and I (2010). After establishing the first colour photo lab in Syria in 1979, Hrair’s father Vartan had hoped his son would take on the family business. Instead, Hrair moved from Damascus to Paris and subsequently Amsterdam. In 2010, Hrair Sarkissian invited his father to stage ‘the last photo shoot’, anticipating the inevitable closure of ‘Dream Colour’ –a marker of the inevitable death of an art form.

In Between, 2006. Series of 16 framed archival inkjet prints; 120 x 175 cm each
In Between, 2006. Series of 16 framed archival inkjet prints; 120 x 175 cm each

Held in the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection, the series Execution Squares (2008) depicts public squares in three Syrian cities which were historically used for public hangings. While the aftermath of one such execution, witnessed by the artist as a child, remains as a memory ingrained in his mind’s eye, Sarkissian revisits and photographs these sites of violence in the stillness of dawn revealing the fragile paradox between the physical beauty of these spaces and the political and social realities, which they obscure. The resultant works act to both mark and erase the horror.

Hrair Sarkissian, Execution Squares, 2008. C-prints; 125 x 160 cm. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection
Hrair Sarkissian, Execution Squares, 2008. C-prints; 125 x 160 cm. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection

The exhibition also includes Final Flight (2018-2019), his multimedia commission for Sharjah Biennial 14, which explores the story of the endangered Northern Bald Ibis through print, film and sculpture. Efforts to conserve the last colony discovered in the Syrian dessert near Palmyra were constrained by the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the birds finally disappeared around the time Palmyra was destroyed in 2014.

Deathscape (2021), the artist’s first sound installation, documents the work of forensic archaeologists as they excavate mass graves in Spain and unearth the legacy of the country’s civil war and its fascist dictatorship.


The exhibition opens 30 October 2021 at Sharjah Art Foundation.

The information is extracted form the press release.

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