Hrair Sarkissian. Back to the future

Words by Teresa Sartore
November 18, 2015

“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.”

Hrair Sarkissian

The first solo show in Italy by Armenian-Syrian photographer Hrair Sarkissian, curated by Filippo Maggia, opens Thursday 26 November 2015 at Fondazione Carispezia

The exhibition features 86 photographs and a video focusing on the themes of the uncertainty of the future and of social, political, religious and cultural identity. Hrair Sarkissian, part of the Armenian Pavilion winner of the Golden Lion for best national participation in the 56th Venice Biennale, reconsiders past and present symbols of the history of Armenia, Egypt and Syria. The artist invites the viewer to go beyond the immediacy of the photograph, that can ascend to the role of witness of time. Sarkissian tells human stories “that are not immediately visible on the surface” using a 4×5 analogue camera and printing large formats. Main themes of his production are: the relationship between individuals, history and the past; memory and identity of places and the transformations they may undergo in time.

In his work, ‘Homesick’ (2014), for example, Hrair Sarkissian recreated and destroyed a model of the building in Damascus where his parents are still living. The same apartment were he grew up and lived until he left Syria. This is not only a house, he states, but the place where he feels he belongs, “a container for his memories, and a place for his family’s collective identity”. Through his artwork, a plausible story is imagined and constructed, reflecting on the consequences and trying to regain control over a fearful situation.

Another interesting photo project on show is “Sarkissian Photo Center and My Father & I” (2010), that consists of a series of images of the family’s photography studio in Damascus and portraits of the artist, and of his father. Hrair’s father owned and worked in the first photographic colour laboratory in Syria, where his son learned about photography techniques before deciding to find his own path abroad as an artist. This artwork documents the photo center before its closure, keeping alive its memory through a “last portrait session” series displayed along with black and white old portraits.

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