Hrair Sarkissian


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Hrair Sarkissian , Background, 2013, Duratrans prints, 180 x 230 cm (series of 6). Courtesy of the artist. Art Jameel Collection

Artwork Details


Hrair Sarkissian






Duratrans prints


180 x 230 cm (series of 6)

Credit Line

Art Jameel Collection

Work Description

Background marks the disappearance of a tradition of studio portraiture integral to the history and development of Middle Eastern photography in the twentieth century by documenting one of its central artefacts: the studio backdrop. Hrair Sarkissian photographed hundreds of examples of backdrops he found in studios across six cities-Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Byblos, Cairo and Istanbul-and then selected one from each location. Large-scale, backlit and hung unframed, like the backdrops themselves, these photographs both monumentalise and eulogise their subject. Without the distraction of a sitter in the foreground, our focus shifts to the backdrop itself and to the tools and spaces historically used for studio portraiture. The spaces are empty and the backdrops appear disused-like ruins or relics of a tradition that has finally run its course, the absent sitter introduces a melancholy quality that radiates from the emptiness.

The inspiration for this project arose from Sarkissian’s own memories of his father’s photographic studio in Damascus, which closed in 2011. These backdrops, absent of their sitters, become symbols of lost traditions, cultural identity and time, while commemorating to a certain period within a society.

Artist Biography

Hrair Sarkissian’s (b. 1973, lives and works in The Hague, Netherlands) photographic practice is characterised by an element of search, as well as the dichotomy of visible/invisible. The search relates to answers about his personal memories and history, while the engagement with what is visible and what is not comes as a re-evaluation of larger historical, religious and social narratives. The invisibility versus visibility is evident in his often deserted landscapes and locations, devoid of human presence yet filled with human existence. Mankind’s intervention is, although invisible, tangible through the buildings undergoing construction or the ruined cityscapes, remnants of conflict.

Sarkissian earned his foundational training at his father’s photographic studio in Damascus, and completed a BFA in Photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam (2010). His work has been widely exhibited, including at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth (2020); Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM), Valencia (2019); 14th Sharjah Art Biennial (2019); The Davies Museum, Massachusetts (2017); Sursock Museum, Beirut (2017); Kadist, San Francisco (2017); Imperial War Museum, London (2017); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle (2017); Kulturcentrum Ronneby, Sweden (2016); 10th Bamako Encounters, Mali (2015); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2015); the Golden Lion-winning Armenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015);  Mosaic Rooms, London (2015); Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany (2014); Tate Modern, London (2014); The New Museum, New York (2014); and Darat al Funun, Amman (2011).

Useful Links

The Distance from Here