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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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RAK arts festival celebrates 10th anniversary in February launch



The Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival (RAKFAF) will celebrate its 10th edition this year, under the theme ‘The Journey,’ a celebration of the annual event’s first decade and the first 50 years of the United Arab Emirates.

The annual arts festival – established under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah – will open to the public on Friday 4 February and run until Thursday, 31 March 2022.

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Artists will share their interpretations of what this theme means to them through the lens of ancestry, migration, national identity, and personal growth.

The historic Ras Al Khaimah pearling village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra will once again provide the central backdrop for the Festival, having been its home for the past three years and standing as a critical bridge between Ras Al Khaimah’s cultural heritage and contemporary art scene.

Satellite exhibition sites will also offer unique settings for different events including the public viewing deck of the UAE’s highest peak Jebel Jais and the Open Park on Al Marjan Island.

The free-to-attend outdoor art, photography, and sculpture exhibition will present a diverse collection of artworks from over 150 artists hailing from more than 45 countries. There will also be a vibrant program of film screenings, workshops, guided tours, and other events held across the Festival’s various locations.

The Festival’s Director, Suqrat bin Bisher, noted that despite the global pandemic hitting the event last year, it remained popular.

“After the success of last year’s Festival which played a truly important role in bringing the community together in spite of a global pandemic, we are excited to reach this 10th year in which we celebrate togetherness, humanity and Ras Al Khaimah’s role in the world of art and culture,” Bisher said.

“Our stunning natural landscape offers the perfect backdrop for open-air events from film to exhibitions in addition to helping us broaden the festival’s reach to those who may not otherwise have discovered us.”

Speaking ahead of the Festival’s opening next month, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, suggested that the 10th year of RAKRAF is a momentous occasion and a cause for great celebration, coinciding as it does with the UAE’s 51st year.

“Arts and culture are vital components in humanity’s ongoing pursuit of greater togetherness and tolerance, as these fields promote the virtues of dialogue, collaboration and understanding, which remain a constant means of uniting humanity. The festival provides a platform for artists from all over the world, as well as our local talent and community members, to come together in a unique location to converse, to forge bonds and to learn, all through the medium of art and culture,” he said.

All international standard COVID-19 safety guidelines are in place for RAKFAF.

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Al Arabiya becomes first regional news channel to exceed 10 mln YouTube subscribers



Al Arabiya has become the first news channel in the Arab region to reach over 10 million YouTube subscribers.

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Videos posted on Al Arabiya’s YouTube channel have gained over 5 billion views, a number no other competing news channel in the Arab region has reached.
The Al Arabiya team has published 110,000 videos and the hours watched on the Arabic YouTube channel exceeded the 200-million-hour mark.
The numbers also reveal more about the keenness of Arab nationals to follow and interact with Al Arabiya and its published content. Al Arabiya videos on YouTube have received more than 52 million likes, and more than 20 million comments.
Al Arabiya is not only leading the Arab region channels on YouTube, but also on other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and others.
Mamdouh al-Muhaini, General Manager of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath channels, confirmed that Al Arabiya always aims to lead, whether as a television station or through its various platforms on social media.
Al-Muhaini pointed out that these figures confirm the trust of the viewers and followers of Al Arabiya, “and this trust is a major responsibility that falls on the shoulders of Al Arabiya and its employees.”
He also stressed that “Al Arabiya has not and will not stop improving to keep up with anything new in the media,” explaining that “the content published on the Al Arabiya platforms always takes into account the age group and the geographical location of the reach of each media platform in different countries.”

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Qatari Al-Attiyah wins Saudi Arabia’s Dakar Rally, Sunderland takes motorbike race



Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched his fourth Dakar Rally title on Friday in Jeddah after leading from the first stage on New Year’s Day.

Al-Attiyah could afford to let nearest rival Sebastien Loeb, the former nine-time rally world champion, beat him by more than five minutes on the 12th and last sandy stage from Bisha and still cruise to overall victory by more than 27 minutes. The Qatari previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

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British rider Sam Sunderland won his second Dakar motorbike title after beating stage winner Pablo Quintanilla of Chile by 3 1/2 minutes, the closest margin since 1994.

But the rally’s end was overshadowed by the road crash death of a support staff member from the PH Sport team on a liaison route.

Quentin Lavalée, aged 20 of France, was killed when the car he was driving collided with a local truck, police told Dakar Rally organizers. A passenger with Lavalée, Maxime Frere of Belgium, was injured and taken to a Jeddah hospital. Lavalee was a chief mechanic.

Al-Attiyah was runner-up in the last two Dakars in Saudi Arabia, and focused on rallying in the past year without sharing time with sport shooting or powerboating. Plagued by punctures on the Dakar, he fine-tuned a Toyota with bigger tires and suspension and came to Saudi having won seven rallies.

His biggest rivals struck trouble early. Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel lost a rear wheel and three-time champ Carlos Sainz made a bad navigation error. Loeb’s drive shaft broke and by the rest day a week ago, Al-Attiyah had a 50-minute lead.

Loeb desperately chipped at the gap in search of his first Dakar title but Al-Attiyah and co-driver Matthieu Baumel expertly avoided trouble.

“It was an incredible Dakar for us. The whole race went without a hitch,” Al-Attiyah said. “We opened up a gap on the first day and have since managed our lead. We’re really happy, and I reckon we’ll start thinking of the next Dakar in a week or 10 days.”

Al-Attiyah’s fourth Dakar tied him for second most with Ari Vatanen. Peterhansel leads with eight.

Loeb’s second place matched his 2017 result in Argentina.

“We never stopped attacking, so we have no regrets,” Loeb said. “Nasser has tons of experience and a co-driver who only makes mistakes once in a blue moon, so he controlled the race to perfection. I still had a blast, though, because every time we gained time on him, it felt great.”

Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi was third for his first Dakar podium at his eighth attempt.

Sunderland’s preparation wasn’t ideal. Riding for his new team GasGas, he had a bad crash at the Rally Kazakhstan and retired ill from the Morocco Rally. Yet, he led throughout the first week of the Dakar and when he was challenged in the second week, timed his winning run to perfection.

“I had a pretty rough season, but when you win the Dakar, it’s all worth it,” Sunderland said.

Quintanilla was runner-up for the second time in three Dakars.

“It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really pleased with my performance,” Quintanilla said.

Austrian rider Matthias Walkner, the 2018 champion and twice runner-up, was nearly seven minutes back in third overall which, he said, “almost feels like a victory.”

Sunderland’s brother-in-law, Adrien van Beveren of France, was fourth, and Joan Barreda of Spain fifth while carrying a shoulder injury.

Mason Klein, the 20-year-old American on debut, was ninth, 13 seconds ahead of two-time winner Toby Price of Australia.

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