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

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.”


REVIEW: US remake of ‘Utopia’ comes up short

The cast of 'Utopia' (Amazon)
Updated 22 October 2020

REVIEW: US remake of ‘Utopia’ comes up short

  • Lavish conspiracy drama misses the spark of the UK original

LONDON: Adapting a UK show for US (and, thanks to the reach of streaming platforms, international) audiences is a risky proposition. There have been far more misses than hits, with the British style of programming often proving difficult to recreate with anything other than the original cast, setting and tone.

It’s even more of a surprise that a US remake of “Utopia” was green-lit when you consider that the original 2013 UK run, though now regarded as something of a cult hit, was a divisive mix of graphic violence, head-spinning conspiratorial doublespeak and terrifyingly brilliant dystopian foreshadowing. Indeed, the original incarnation of the show was cancelled after just 12 episodes.

So how does the US version stack up? The premise is largely the same. A group of online friends, obsessed with the idea that a mysterious comic book has been predicting the world’s catastrophes, meet in real life when word leaks out of a newly discovered second volume. The misfits, each with their own distinctive foibles, find themselves on the run from a sinister organization that is hellbent on getting the book back. The only person they can turn to is the enigmatic Jessica Hyde, the ‘star’ of the comic book’s first volume.

In many ways, the US version simply transplants the action, characters and plot from the original, albeit it with the high-gloss buffing of modern TV production dollars. Sadly, in most cases, the 2020 version doesn’t fare well – Sasha Lane’s Jessica Hyde and Christopher Denham’s Arby, for example, lack the charisma of Fiona O’Shaughnessy or the horrifying blankness of Neil Maskell from the UK show.

Sasha Lane as Jessica Hyde in 'Utopia.' (Amazon)

There are some nice nods to the more modern setting – not to mention horribly unfortunate relevance, given the current global pandemic – and some big names making up the supporting cast (John Cusack and Rainn Wilson), but more often that not, the 2020 show lacks the claustrophobic menace that pervaded the UK original.

“Utopia” is still an enjoyably uncomfortable watch, and is (at times) still chillingly sinister. Those who missed the UK original might find something here, but those who caught the show first time round may feel a little underwhelmed.