Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world

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Kim, Kanye and kids on the streets of Syria. (Stephany Sannosian)
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
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Stephany Sannosian. (Supplied)
Updated 12 June 2019
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Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world

  • The Syrian-Armenian artist’s doctored images are grabbing global attention
  • “When you mention Syria, everyone talks about the war, No one talks about our rich culture. I want to change that.”

LONDON: Newsflash! Kim, Kendall and Kylie, those doyens of social media, have been spotted in Damascus and Aleppo — looking amazing, of course — soaking up the street life and attending exclusive private parties in magnificent Syrian mansions.  

And the Kardashians/Jenners were not alone. Turns out, Syria is quite the celebrity hot spot these days. Also spotted in the war-torn country recently were Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue; international songbird Celine Dion and the American stage performer Billy Porter — all  having a whale of a time in the bazaars.

But this wasn’t some kind of fashion-inspired UN peace mission. On closer inspection, those pictures did seem kind of fishy. For a start, the outfits the celebrities were sporting were identical to the ones they were wearing at the Met Gala in New York on May 6. And we all know Kim, Kendall and Kylie aren’t going to be photographed in the same dress twice.

Turns out the scenes were the product of the wild imagination of Syrian-Armenian artist Stephany Sanossian, who simply transposed the celebrities into locations of her choice within her beloved country.

The pictures may be humorous, but Sanossian’s motivation for creating them is serious. She is using celebrities to draw attention to Syria — to remind people of what her homeland once was — before the deadly civil war erupted — and what it is today.

“When you mention Syria, everyone talks about the war,” Sanossian told Arab News. “No one talks about our rich culture. I want to change that.”

Sanossian, who currently works as a freelance graphic designer, has a Master's in Research for Design and Innovation from Elisava, a prestigious design school in Barcelono affiliated with Pompeu Fabra University. The part of the course she most enjoyed dealt with trends and their global impact.

“For me this was amazing,” she said. “We looked at all kinds of trends — not just fashion, but artistic, political and economic.”

Last summer she held a joint exhibition, “Perspective 101,” in Denmark. She is also the co-founder of “Live Love Armenia,” based in Yerevan, Armenia, which showcases the authentic face and beauty of the country. “The mission is to display Armenian talent to connect the Armenian diaspora with the motherland,” she said.

There is something a bit wistful about Sanossian. She was born and raised in Aleppo — leaving Syria in 2010 to be educated in Lebanon. She admits she is strongly affected by nostalgia for the scenes of her childhood and longs to show the world the country she knows and loves without the ugly scars of war, suffering and devastation.

So while on some level there is something quite humorous about her fake images, there is also something poignant. In a world that has become numbed to suffering, does it take a celebrity to make the world take notice? Perhaps it does. If so, she has succeeded in making her point as the world’s media is knocking on her door for interviews.

The ‘celebrities in Syria’ shots aren't her first mixed-media images. She did a brilliant job last year of creating an ‘Aleppo Fashion Week,’ blending catwalk images of famous models with historic sites.

The intention was the same: To use images that everyone wants to see to draw attention to places that people have forgotten or overlooked.

“Each image I create triggers a joyful memory for me and creating this kind of art far away from destruction and war brings me happiness,” she said.

It's a great concept — and one with endless possibilities. But what about the reaction of the celebrities — or indeed the photographers — whose images have been used?  So far, none of them have been in touch. But perhaps that will change as the story gains momentum. To date, Sanossian has around 5,000 followers on Instagram, but that number will likely grow fast as media attention increases.

Asked where she gets her ideas from, she said: “My inspiration comes from everywhere — it might be walking down the street, a memory, or something happening around me on a daily basis.”

She is keen to raise the profile of Middle Eastern artists in the West, as she believes that there is too much focus on Western art in general.

“People in America and Europe only seem to know the Middle East in the context of war and destruction and nothing else,” she said. “They don’t seem to have much knowledge, for example, about the Middle East art scene.”

She plans to leave Barcelona soon (a tough decision — “I love Spain so much,” she said) and head either Lebanon or Dubai. She still has family in Syria, but her close family are all in Lebanon.

Regardless of where she ends up, Sanossian will continue to make thought-provoking artwork. “I want to keep doing what I am doing and raise awareness of the true nature of places like Syria and Armenia,” she said. “Let’s be proud of our heritage and culture.”


As Saudi Arabia gears up for K-pop’s Super Junior we ask ‘what’s the draw?’

Updated 26 June 2019
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As Saudi Arabia gears up for K-pop’s Super Junior we ask ‘what’s the draw?’

  • K-pop favorites Super Junior will hit the stage in Jeddah in July
  • This catchy pop genre has seen several false starts

JEDDAH: It is just weeks to go before one of K-pop’s best-known groups, “Super Junior”, take to the stage in Jeddah, adding them to an ever-increasing hall of fame as the Kingdom continues on its wave of modernization.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans of K-pop were seen as the odd ones out, but now they represent an increasingly large group of devotees across the globe.

K-pop music, a versatile genre of music, accompanied by an explosion of bright colors, flashy choreographed dancing and catchy beats, has fans as young as 10 captivated.

But what has made this once widely mocked genre turn from a freak show into one of the world’s most successful styles of pop music and why is it so popular in the Kingdom? Arab News spoke to fans to find out.

Local online shops and social media accounts in Saudi Arabia are slowly increasing merchandise of Korean goods including clothing, fan art, band merchandise and much more. 

Even Saudis living abroad in Korea have got involved and are pushing the K-pop message through their social media accounts, drawing in younger recruits to this increasingly popular phenomenon.

College student Yasmin Noor, 19, who has been a fan for four years said: “I got into K-pop when I was 15. When I stumbled across Choi Siwon from “Super Junior” on the internet, I wanted to know more about him. After that I wanted to know about Korea and their culture.”

How K-pop's global interest grew

Boy – and girl - bands are not a new phenomenon, K-pop is riding the crest of a rather big tried and tested wave.

But while most of the groups that preceded this genre are from western countries and sing in English, K-pop bands have largely stayed loyal to their roots, singing in their native tongue – although not always.

Even the United State’s Rolling Stone magazine joined the debate surrounding the genre’s growing popularity around the world, suggesting that interest in Korean pop music first began in 2012 with Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” but he was seen as an amusing gimmick.

Then there was a series of highly polished girl groups that hit the stage, including “Wonder Girls” and “Girls Generation,” who came backed with vast productions and massive budgets which promptly flopped, failing to capture the imagination of the essential US audience.

But why did they fail? Rolling Stone suggested it might be these groups simply “tried too hard.”

Super Junior backstage at their concert 'Super Show' (Photo Courtesy: Social media)

Now K-pop has dared to cross the boundaries and, with groups like BTS, started to encompass Western styles, while maintaining its Korean origins, delivering a more upbeat, feel good positive style that is starting to capture the attention of the US.

It didn’t matter that groups were singing in Korean, when the sound had something that sounded reassuringly similar but was uncharacteristically uplifting.

And it’s not just the US where K-pop is proving a vast success, it seems the Gulf region loves it too.

Social media was always going to help

Saudi-based life coach and HR officer, Nora Alrifai, 27, said: “The appeal for me was how some songs moved my heartstrings even though I didn’t understand anything they were saying.”

And her fascination with Korea didn’t stop there, she said the country’s local TV dramas have also been a serious draw as her love of Korean media continues to grow.

K-pop’s recent success around the world has caught many by surprise, but the brand’s normalization into such a competitive market could be, in part, due to collaborations with western acts.

But Alrifai believes social media has played a big part.

“Due to the globalization and the excessive use of social media, the world is becoming a global village and everyone has access now to other cultures and their art,” she said.

Rowaida Fuad, the chef behind Sakura Topia, a restaurant that serves authentic Korean and Japanese food said she was initially a K-Pop fan: “I got into K-Pop when I was in university in 2005. At that time it was becoming famous among students who had internet access.”

One of the biggest online K-pop communities “Soompi,” which started in 1998, boasts a user base of 22 million and still growing, with the vast majority being from around the globe and not Korean.

And there’s evidence, Rolling Stone suggested, that its millions of users are spending hours translating lyrics and analyzing the videos which accompany to catchy tracks.

Yasmin Noor recalled how she first discovered the colorful world of K-pop, she said; “What made me like them was definitely their dancing skills and the most impressive of all was the production value that goes into their music videos.”

“Super Junior” will perform in Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Season on July 12, and fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of the tickets, a first of its kind in the Kingdom that will surely not be the last.