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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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Ahead of ‘Succession’ finale, uncertainty about outcomes for its sparring siblings

There’s no Iron Throne, but the stakes feel just as high.

“Succession,” the critically acclaimed drama chronicling a Murdoch-esque feuding billionaire family, wraps its four-season run on Sunday with a highly anticipated 88-minute finale.

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And just like another tentpole HBO show, “Game of Thrones,” there’s no shortage of theories over how the series will end and who will prevail. But instead of a throne, the Roy siblings are battling over the sprawling Waystar Royco media empire.

The Shakespearean-level intrigue has prompted speculation among fans looking for clues in past episodes, characters’ names and elsewhere.

Even the final episode’s title, “With Open Eyes,” has critics poring through the John Berryman poem that has been used for each season finale’s title.

Here are some of the questions that remain as the finale nears.

Where do things stand with the Roy family?

“Succession” has been about who will ultimately run the media conglomerate founded by Logan Roy, the belligerent and profane Roy family patriarch played by Brian Cox.

For most of the series, three siblings have been vying for the crown: Kendall, played by Jeremy Strong; Roman, played by Kieran Culkin; and Shiv, played by Sarah Snook. A fourth sibling — Connor, played by Alan Ruck — instead mounted an ill-fated run for president.

By the end of season three, the siblings had buried their differences enough to attempt a corporate coup of their father — only to be betrayed by Shiv’s husband Tom Wambsgans, played by Matthew Macfadyen.

The series’ most shocking twist came early this season, when Logan died on his way to close a deal with GoJo, a tech company.

Logan’s death and the power vacuum it created have led to renewed struggle among the siblings, with Kendall and Roman hoping to block the GoJo deal.

Who will prevail?

Show creator Jesse Armstrong told The New Yorker earlier this year “there’s a promise in the title of ‘Succession,’” a sign that there’ll be some certainty at least on this question.

The finale could live up to Logan’s statement in season 3 that life is “a fight for a knife in the mud.”

Kendall appeared in the penultimate episode to be on track to follow in his father’s footsteps, delivering an impromptu eulogy at Logan’s funeral after Roman was too grief-stricken to do so.

After aligning himself with the far-right presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken — who the Roy’s network questionably declared the winner — Roman’s fortunes appeared to be falling and was seen fighting with protesters in the streets in the final scenes.

Shiv, meanwhile is still trying to shepherd the GoJo deal with a plan she’s concocted that would install her as the company’s chief executive in the United States.

Connor, after losing every state and endorsing Mencken, is instead planning for his hoped-for ambassadorship.

There are a few wild cards that remain, in and outside the Roy family. The biggest one of all is Greg, the cousin and fan favorite played by Nicholas Braun, known for his awkward quotes and verbal abuse he endures from Tom.

Who won the election?

All of this is happening with the backdrop of an unsettled U.S. election that may have been swung to Mencken (Justin Kirk) with the help of the Roy’s cable network and a seemingly not-coincidental fire at a vote center in a swing state.

The scenario and the series’ Election Night episode has echoed the conversations revealed among Fox News executives and talent during the defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems that led to a nearly $800 million settlement with the network.

“Succession’s” fictional election results have both professional and personal implications for the Roy family, with protests over Mencken erupting throughout the city. But even Shiv seems willing to put her moral qualms aside at the prospect of making a deal with Mencken.

What about Tom and Shiv?

Tom and Shiv’s marriage had been on shaky ground before he betrayed her to Logan at the end of last season.

This season it’s even more so, with the two holding a no-holds-barred argument at a pre-election party where the two traded grievances and insults.

Shiv’s revelation to Tom on Election Night that she’s pregnant prompted one of the most gut-wrenching responses, with Tom asking her whether she was telling the truth or just using a new tactic against him.

The show continues to offer some signs of affection between the two, with Shiv telling an exhausted Tom to sleep at her apartment after the funeral, but it remains to be seen whether their marriage is salvageable.

Is this really the end?

There are plenty of examples of shows that lived on after their finales. “Game of Thrones” spawned a popular prequel series, “House of the Dragon,” while “Seinfeld” got a second try on its much-maligned finale on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Even “The Sopranos,” known for one of the buzziest finales of all time, came back with a movie looking at Tony Soprano’s beginning.

Armstrong has left open revisiting his character in another fashion, and the possibilities for doing so are endless. A Tom and Greg buddy comedy? Or maybe a Logan Roy origin story, just to reveal the first time he said his signature vulgar phrase.

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LACMA contemporary exhibition features Arab female artists and art from Middle East

One of the latest exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in the US features the art of Arab women from the Middle East.

The exhibition, Women Defining Women in Contemporary Art of the Middle East, takes visitors, through a stunning collection of art and artifacts, on a journey that explores the experiences, challenges, and triumphs of women in the Middle East.

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The exhibition curator and department head Linda Komaroff researched the work featured and acquired it to put together the exhibition she described as “special.”

Exhibition curator and department head Linda Komaroff. (Screengrab)

Exhibition curator and department head Linda Komaroff. (Screengrab)

“What curators do in museums is we acquire works, we research works, and we do special exhibitions like the one we’re standing in now,” she told Al Arabiya English.

One of the artists featured in the LACMA exhibition is Iraqi-born Los Angeles-based artist Hayv Kahraman.

She is known for her thought-provoking artwork that uses elongated figures and intricate patterns, where she creates a sense of ambiguity.

Her art challenges stereotypes and highlights the resilience and complexity of marginalized communities, making her a significant voice in contemporary art.

“We have four works by the Iraqi born US based artist Hayv Kahramen,” Komaroff. “She’s an artist whose practice really focuses on women and especially using herself as the prime figure in her painting.”

According to the curator, Kahraman primarily uses paint and sometimes watercolor in her art.

“And if you look at her work, you’ll see that the primary figure of the woman often looks very, very much the same and is kind of a classical Iraqi beauty,” Kmaroff added.

One of the pieces featured by the Iraqi artist is called Indian Poker, a card game.

Indian Poker, artwork by Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman, displayed in the LACMA exhibition. (Screengrab)

Indian Poker, artwork by Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman, displayed in the LACMA exhibition. (Screengrab)

“I don’t know how to play,” the curator joked. “But it shows a woman that’s almost like a playing card and that there’s two of her and you could show it upside down and right side up. And she looks the same at the end.”

This exhibition showcases the diverse and dynamic ways in which women have defined themselves and each other throughout the history of the Middle East.

According to the curator, the exhibition is comprised of 75 works of art in a variety of media by 42 artists.

“Some of them were born in the Middle East, and some of them are part of diaspora communities in the US and Europe,” Komaroff said.

One of the latest exhibitions at LACMA features the art of Arab women from the Middle East. (Screengrab)

One of the latest exhibitions at LACMA features the art of Arab women from the Middle East. (Screengrab)

Visitors of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the exhibition, which is filled with interactive displays, multimedia installations, and engaging programming.

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AI-powered monocle RizzGPT seeks to add sparkle to human conversations

If ChatGPT can help you write an essay or devise a meal plan, could it perhaps help you converse with other humans?
That’s what 22-year-old Stanford University computer science student Bryan Chiang was wondering earlier this year.

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So, he grabbed an augmented reality eyepiece and his laptop and recruited a few friends to code what he calls RizzGPT.
The eyepiece — a monocle designed by Brilliant Labs that is open-sourced so its firmware can be experimented with — features a camera, a microphone and an internal projector screen where words are displayed in front of the user’s eye.
When someone talks to the user, RizzGPT monitors the conversation through the microphone, transforms it to text, and sends it via WiFi to OpenAI’s artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT to generate a response. That response then appears af-ter a short delay on the small monocle screen.
“RizzGPT basically uses AI to provide you charisma on demand, and so it listens to your current ongoing conversation, and it tells you exactly what to say next,” said Chiang.
In a demonstration, Reuters asked Chiang: “What do you see as your biggest weakness?”
“I believe my biggest weakness is that I can be too hard on myself sometimes. I’m always striving to do my best and sometimes I can burn myself out,” Chiang read from the monocle after about five seconds.
The delay and the response is not yet very natural — or charimatic. But it is strictly a prototype, intended to show what may be possi-ble with the technology, Chiang said.
“It’s been a while since how we interact computers has changed,” he said. “You’re seeing the convergence of 5G
connectivity, AR glasses, the hardware, the intelligence coming together to basically create a new way of interacting with these systems, a new operating system in which it’s much more natural.”
The goal was not to replace natural human conversation entirely, he said.
“It’s merely meant as this sort of assistive aid to help you think about things that you might have forgotten… I think in that role it could be incredibly helpful for people who struggle with social anxiety and have difficulties, you know, talking to others.”

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