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Hrair Sarkissian: Using photography to make visible the legacy of trauma

The exhibition, ‘Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence,’ at the Sharjah Art Foundation’s Gallery 3 and 4 takes the viewer on a journey to the squares of Aleppo, Latakia, and Damascus, and through the skies of Palmyra, and the snow-covered landscapes of contemporary Armenia.
Jointly organized by Sharjah Art Foundation, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and the Bonnefanten, Maastricht, this is the first major survey of Sarkissian's practice and brings together artworks in the most extensive presentation to date.

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Besides his signature life-size photographs, the exhibition showcases the artist’s works in video, sculpture, sound, and installation.
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 Other Side of Silence’ explores histories of disappearance, the architecture of violence, and the potential of the medium of photography itself.
Born and raised in Damascus in 1973, Hrair Sarkissian is a photographer who earned his initial training in his father’s photo lab ‘Dream Color’ where he spent all his childhood vacations and where he worked full-time for 12 years after high school.
In 2010, he completed a BFA in Photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam, where he continued using analogue large format photography as his primary medium.
Sarkissian lives and works in London since 2011.
“I use photography as a way to tell stories that are not immediately visible on the surface. Employing traditional documentary techniques and using a 4×5 analogue camera, my photographic series consist of austere, large-scale images. The constancy and beauty of the settings, however, are at odds with the socio-historical realities that they conceal. Photography is my tool to search for answers related to my personal memories and background, and I use this subjectivity as a way to navigate larger stories that official histories are unable or unwilling to tell,” Sarkissian says of his work.
“I try to engage the viewer into a more profound reading of what lies behind the surface of the image, thereby re-evaluating larger historical or social narratives. Once people become aware of the invisible elements behind my work, the physicality of the image is almost destroyed. The architecture and surroundings of the execution squares are no more than a backdrop when you see the bodies hanging in your mind; the faces upon which the zebiba (prayer bump) is imprinted are no longer individuals; the still darkness of the libraries becomes loaded once you realize what historical complexities these archives cover.”
Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director, Sharjah Art Foundation, writes in the Foreword of the catalog that it feels fitting that this exhibition should begin its international journey in Sharjah.
Sarkissian’s relationship with SAF dates back to 2009, when his iconic ‘Execution Squares’ was included in one of the early exhibitions at the newly established Foundation which acquired the work.
Sarkissian's installation, ‘Final Flight’ was co-produced by the Foundation and exhibited during Sharjah Biennial 14 (2019).
Noting that Sarkissian became increasingly attuned to the conceptual possibilities of large-format photography, Hoor says that his approach is “to make visible that which is withheld from public records or erased from the collective imagination.”
This specifically refers to his work ‘Last Seen’ (2018-21), realized by the support from SAF. Hoor highlights Sarkissian's “unwavering commitment to making visible the legacy of trauma for the living over the disappearance of loved ones during periods of historical conflict.
“Last Seen,’ the artist’s most ambitious project to date, comprise 50 photographs representing 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.
As Omar Khleif notes: “Sarkissian’s work while not explicitly concerned with trauma evokes its embodiment and afterlife. The wounds and distresses of the past are made manifest through the interplay of absences. For it is within the act of silence that the author and witnesses become one.”
This is especially true of the series ‘Execution Squares’ (2008), where Sarkissian uses the camera “as an object of erasure and enclosure.”
‘Execution Squares’ depicts public squares in three Syrian cities — Aleppo, Latakia, and Damascus – where public executions used to take place. The work, comprising 14 life-size photos, came out of a personal encounter Sarkissian had as a teenager on his way to school when he saw three bodies hanging in one of these squares.
As an adult, he returns to the same locations, documenting these empty squares at dawn – the time when these executions used to happen, to erase the trauma from his memory, as well as to create a public archive of political and social reality.
‘Deathscape’ (2020) is a sound installation where Sarkissian shrouds the viewer in darkness while the sounds of scratching and distant voices invade the senses. The work was realized by attaching microphones to the bodies of forensic scientists during archaeological digs to document the soundscape as they unearthed mass tombs. The absence of any visual cues invites the mind to ponder the reality of nameless victims condemned to death by fascist regimes.
‘In Between’ (2006) explores the landscapes in Armenia covered in snow, exploring his Armenian origins with an evocative and lyrical touch.
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.
“We live in an era where social justice has been enabled through the medium of photography and its mass proliferation. The act of re-authoring history to reflect the diversity of human memory and lived experience is at the heart of Hrair Sarkissian’s practice,” says curator Dr Kholeif.
‘Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence’ will be on view at Sharjah Art Foundation till January 30, 2022, and Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm,, from April 26 to June 19, 2022, before travelling to the Bonnefanten, , Maastricht, where it will be on view in late summer 2022.

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Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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