On view from 29.11.2022 until 14.05.2023
Curators: Dr. Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation, Dr. Theodor Ringborg, Artistic Director, Bonniers Konsthall, and Stijn Huijts, General Manager and Artistic Director, Bonnefanten.

From 29 November, Bonnefanten presents the first mid-career survey in the Netherlands by the Syrian-Armenian artist Hrair Sarkissian (born 1973, Damascus, Syria) - one of today's leading conceptual artists working with photography. In The Other Side of Silence, Sarkissian reveals the muted wounds behind scenes of conflict, which are often realised in his signature life-sized photographs. This exhibition takes viewers on an expansive journey through the public squares of Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus, above and through the skies above Palmyra (in modern-day Syria) and across the snow-covered post-industrial landscapes of present-day Armenia. On display are more than fifteen of the artist’s career-defining bodies of work, including the newly commissioned Sweet and Sour (2022), which premieres at Bonnefanten. The artist notes that this is one of his most personal works to date.

Sarkissian's art often narrates stories that the general public do not see. Through his life-sized photographs, as well as through moving image works, sculpture, sound and installation, the artist brings invisible stories and contested histories to the surface for examination. In doing so, he seeks to evoke an emotional experience amongst viewers, creating a sense of awareness, and perhaps, solidarity with regards to shared human traumas. Despite using analogue photographic practices, the artist’s pictures play with the vernacular possibilities of photography as a mass medium, thus offering the opportunity to consider what official history conceals, and the attendant possibilities of re-writing it.

Telling stories through photography

Early in his life, Sarkissian was interested in the conceptual scope offered by the medium of photography. The artist’s practice has involved recuperative acts drawn from personal memory, as well as a resuscitation of hidden histories, which have been developed through in-depth research and human encounter. Despite the proliferation of digital photography in the contemporary age, the artist has continued, since his youth, to capture his images with an analogue large-format camera, where human figures are most often absent. Sarkissian invites the viewer to reflect on what is visible within the confines of the image, to ‘breathe in’ the silence of each picture and at the same time, to explore what might exist beneath its surface.

Hrair Sarkissian, Sweet and Sour, 2022. Commissioned by Bonnefanten. Courtesy by the artist
Hrair Sarkissian, Sweet and Sour, 2022. Commissioned by Bonnefanten. Courtesy by the artist.

A quest for roots through personal existence

Many of Hrair Sarkissian's works emerge from personal seats of memory. These lines of inquiry initiate processes of detailed research and exploration. Born and raised in Syria - the grandson of Armenian genocide refugees, much of his work can be interpreted as an investigation into the concealed emotional contexts that suffuse the lives of myriad diasporic communities. One of his earliest works, In Between (2006), arose from continual self-reflection of his own identity. In this series of sixteen images, one can bear witness to Armenian landscapes, which sit amidst blankets of snow. One could infer that the snow serves as a protective cover against the harsh reality of post-Soviet urban decay in the country.

In his most recent work, Sweet and Sour (2022), commissioned by Bonnefanten, the artist returned to his ancestral home in Eastern Anatolia, formerly Western Armenia, nearly a century after his family’s exclusion. Upon arrival, Sarkissian found that all trace of the original population had been erased since the Armenian genocide of 1915. Sarkissian subsequently relays this context to his father, back in Syria in a video of the 'fatherland’- a place his father will never be able to regard as home, or indeed, return to.

Hrair Sarkissian, Unexposed, 2013. Courtesy of the artist
Hrair Sarkissian, Unexposed, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Hrair Sarkissian

Hrair Sarkissian is one of the leading conceptual artists working primarily with photography. His professional career began in his father's photographic studio in Damascus, ‘Dream Colour’, which was also the first colour photo lab in Syria. He later would study in France and the Netherlands, graduating with a Bachelor of Photography from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, in 2010. Today, the artist lives and works in London. Sarkissian’s painterly images continue to emerge through his practice of large-format photography. Since then, his practice has evolved to encompass moving-image, installation and sound.

Sarkissian's work has been included in various solo and group exhibitions and is represented in the collections of Bonnefanten (Maastricht, NL), The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas, US); Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City, US); Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan); Tate Modern (London); Sharjah Art Foundation (Sharjah, UAE); Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena (Modena, Italy); Fondazione Carispezia (Italy); The Khalid Shoman Collection (Amman, Jordan); and The Farjam Collection (Dubai, UAE). Sarkissian's awards include the Abraaj Group Art Prize, Dubai (2012), and a Steenbergen Stipendium, Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam (2010).

Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence

Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence is a collaboration between the Sharjah Art Foundation (Sharjah, UAE), Bonniers Konsthall (Stockholm, Sweden) and Bonnefanten. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE; Dr. Theodor Ringborg, Artistic Director of Bonniers Konsthall and Stijn Huijts, General Manager and Artistic Director of Bonnefanten.

Following its presentation at Sharjah Art Foundation (30 October 2021-30 January 2022) and Bonniers Konsthall (27 April-19 June 2022), the Bonnefanten exhibition presents the most extensive body of work, featuring two new commissions, Last Seen (2021-2022) and Sweet and Sour (2022), as well as works not previously included on the exhibition tour. The Bonnefanten presentation also coincides with a time, where there is an increase in global movement due to conflict and civil unrest. Sarkissian's penetrating works call on everyone not to shut their eyes and to remain open to what is not told and disseminated. Bonnefanten shows solidarity with everyone in the Netherlands and worldwide who, through no fault of their own, have to flee from violence or who are affected in any way whatsoever by a conflict.

Publication of Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence. Photo: Bonniers Konsthall
Publication Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence. Photo: Bonniers Konsthall.

Major publication of Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence

The exhibition is accompanied by the first extensive monograph on the artist, Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence, edited by Dr. Omar Kholeif and Dr. Theodor Ringborg, and published by Bonniers Konsthall in collaboration with Lenz Press. The publication features original scholarly essays and texts by Stijn Huijts, Hoor Al Qasimi, Hannah Feldman, Marianne Hirsch, Omar Kholeif, Vali Mahlouji, Todd Reisz and Theodor Ringborg. The publication is available in English at the Bonnefanten museum shop: Price €45, ISBN: 9791280579010.

This exhibition is organised with:

Mede georganiseerd door Sharjah Art Foundation en Bonniers Konsthall

This exhibition is made possible by:

Mogelijk gemaakt door Ministerie OCW, Provincie Limburg, VriendenLoterij en Fonds 21


Note for the press: for more information, interviews and visual material, please contact Esther Wagemans through pressoffice@bonnefanten.nl or on +31 (0)6 288634294.

Header: Hrair Sarkissian, In Between, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.