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

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)
Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world
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From Sanossian's "Met Gala" series. (Stephany Sannosian)
Meet Stephany Sanossian, the artist bringing Hollywood to the Arab world
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Stephany Sannosian. (Supplied)
Updated 12 June 2019

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

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.”


New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
Updated 24 July 2021

New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
  • Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora
  • Lead artist: ‘After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need’

LONDON: A new mixed-media exhibition exploring the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain through the lens of people’s relationship with nature and green space has launched in the north of England.

Free to visitors and run by the Arab British Centre, the Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora, and the intricacies of the Arab-British experience in all its intersections and diversity. 

Themed around the idea of nature and named “Jarda” — “garden” in Moroccan Arabic — artists will give audiences a chance to “walk in nature through Arab eyes.”

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown and when parks, fields and forests became people’s only outing.

The women-led exhibition encourages visitors to appreciate the green spaces available to them, while also exposing audiences to the Arab experience in modern Britain.

“Working with this group of amazing women has made me appreciate Manchester, myself and my femininity in a whole new way. After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need,” El-Mal said.

Amani Hassan, program director at the Arab British Centre, said: “Since it was first launched in 2019, our Arab Britain theme has set out to explore the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain.”

The program aims to overturn preconceptions, challenge prejudices, retrace the ways the Arab world has influenced and shaped British culture and society, and celebrate the contributions of Arabs in the country, past and present. 

“Jarda highlights the universal comfort and connection we can all find in nature through intimate and personal reflections on home, belonging and the power of community,” Hassan said.

“We hope that visitors to the museum enjoy their walk in nature through Arab British eyes and are encouraged to reflect on their own connections to it.”

The physical exhibition will be accompanied by a digital offering that will give people free access to a host of creative activities that aim to encourage people to reflect on their own connections with green spaces.

“Jarda” is open now, and will run until Oct. 10 in Manchester’s People’s History Museum.


Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city
The text-based installation “Beirut Narratives” is currently in display in Lebanon. Supplied
Updated 23 July 2021

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city
  • Text-based installation offered residents ‘a silent, anonymous way of protesting’ after the devastating port explosion

DUBAI: “I burst into tears.” “I was shaking.” “My chair flew me right above ground.” “No right to dream.” “Bitter feelings.” “Apocalypse.” 

These are some of the brief-but-harrowing testimonials from survivors of the catastrophic Beirut Port explosion of August 4, 2020, which are now being publicly displayed on the streets of the Lebanese capital as part of the text-based installation “Beirut Narratives.” The installation was conceived by Lebanese sisters, architects and co-founders of Architecture et Mécanismes, Celine and Tatiana Stephan. 

From the banking crisis to price inflation and fuel shortage, it has been a surreal year of lows for most Lebanese civilians. On the day we had arranged to discuss the sisters’ latest project, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned after failing to form a new government. 

The text-based installation was conceived by Lebanese sisters, architects and co-founders of Architecture et Mécanismes, Celine and Tatiana Stephan. Supplied

“Each one of us is thinking: ‘How can people still be so adapted to such a situation, in terms of the economic crisis and the socio-political situation?’ Everything is happening all at the same time,” Celine told Arab News. “People are, I believe, tired and frustrated. What we’re trying to do, as architects, with this urban installation is to rethink the city.”

Unlike many young professionals who are hoping to migrate or have already left the country for better opportunities abroad, Celine and Tatiana have decided to stay for now, for better or for worse, in their home country. “Beirut is like a parent to us,” said Tatiana. “When your parents are getting old, you just don’t leave them behind and go. You help them, support them and push them to be better.” 

Continuing the theme of family, Celine added: “I have two daughters. I would like them to live in Lebanon and see change happening and be part of that change. Despite its misery, chaos, and lack of infrastructure, it’s a city that inspires us at all levels.”

The Stephan sisters gathered testimonials from a diverse group of people, including friends and family, firefighters and healthcare workers. Supplied

In recent months, the pair turned their attention towards buildings and spaces in the neighborhoods of Gemmayze, Karantina and Mar Mikhael, which have been damaged and stand empty in the aftermath of the blast. In a commemorative manner, these silent and neglected buildings are given their own voice. 

“We wanted to make those buildings talk, because it’s somehow like a new way of manifestation,” explained Celine. “It’s a silent, anonymous way of protesting,” added Tatiana. 

The Stephan sisters gathered testimonials from a diverse group of people, including friends and family, firefighters and healthcare workers, all of whom were releasing pent-up anger and sadness and were willing to share their experiences of that horrific day. Children also contributed drawings to the project. 

Children also contributed drawings to the project. Supplied

For the Stephans, it was all an emotional and healing experience. “We sat with those people, we talked to them, we cried, we heard every single story. I still have goosebumps now,” said Celine. 

Divided into three categories — descriptions, emotions, and reflections — the testimonials were written out with red, black and white spray paint onto pieces of brown jute, later transformed by stitching into bold tapestries or “fragments.” According to the Stephans, who did the spraying and stitching, the use of jute was intentional, as it is accessible and serves as a reminder of the durable material used to transfer wheat into the silos at the Port of Beirut. 

The sisters and their collaborator, the Lebanese-Danish creative consultant Mira Hawa, went to different sites, personally hanging the fragments, which is in itself a risky task. “We had to go to the edge of a high building, on the 11th floor, and the wind was extremely strong. We had to improvise, we didn’t know how to install it because it was huge and there was a lot of wind,” Tatiana said of one of their challenging experiences near the port. 

The testimonials were written out with red, black and white spray paint onto pieces of brown jute, later transformed by stitching into bold tapestries. Supplied

Seeing the women lead the installation process on site was surprising for some. “Men were coming out in their sleeveless vests, with their big muscles, hanging over their balconies to see who these three girls were,” said Hawa. “One of the first comments we got was: ‘Who’s going to help you? Where are the guys?’” 

Despite encountering difficulties in accessing some buildings, they persisted and installed the work on 13 buildings. For some, the fragments proved to be too intense — akin to rubbing salt into a wound. 

“Some people were very disturbed when they saw the piece,” said Celine. “I remember one time we were not even installing; we were trying to talk to an NGO to discuss the possibility of installing. The owner of a building was there and he was really destabilized and he started crying. We felt really bad and asked ourselves so many questions: Are we making the right choice?” 

The project also tackles the notion of speaking up in an environment that often suppresses inner thoughts and feelings related to trauma. Supplied

Tatiana echoed Celine’s sentiments, highlighting how sensitive this whole project has been. “I felt that for some who were engaged in the piece, you feel in their eyes as if you put a knife into a wound,” she said. But overall, the project was positively viewed and embraced by locals. It brought out a sense of community, with many assisting the women during the arduous installation process. 

“We were touched by everyone who wanted to help, who offered us coffee, or water. They barely have anything to eat and drink,” remarked Celine. 

“Beirut Narratives” ticks a number of boxes, acting as a form of cultural activism, supporting the Lebanese people and offering them a sense of justice. The Stephans and Hawa hope that one day these fragments can also travel abroad, igniting empathy with the Lebanese diaspora. The project also tackles the notion of speaking up in an environment that often suppresses inner thoughts and feelings related to trauma. 

“We have a very painful habit in the Middle East, that every time something (bad) happens we just get on with it. I think it’s about time we stopped and made some noise,” said Hawa. “When you see the pieces on the street, it’s very bold, it’s very raw and prominent. You cannot ignore it.”


Pop-culture highlights from across the region

Pop-culture highlights from across the region
Photographed by Kishore Das. Supplied
Updated 23 July 2021

Pop-culture highlights from across the region

Pop-culture highlights from across the region

DUBAI: From indie electronica to live performances, and adorable animals to wilting trees, these are the pop culture moments you might have missed from the region.

Kishore Das 

The Indian photographer was one of five winners of the Dubai-based Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award’s (HIPA) June Instagram photo contest, the theme of which was “Your Pet.”

HIPA Secretary General, Ali bin Thalith explained the reason for the theme in a press release, saying: “The relationship between humans and their pets is deeply ancient. The quality of its emotions is complex; it’s rich in detail, situations and beautiful in its spontaneous reactions.”

Das won for this image taken in 2016 at the Sacribel Elephant Camp in India’s Karnataka state. “I was catching a scene in the distance when I suddenly noticed this little elephant playing with one of the caretakers near me. I wanted to capture this perfect emotional moment, so I had to use my 70-300 mm zoom lens. One of the reasons that I love this photo is because it was the baby elephant who approached and showed his closeness and interdependence,” Das said in the press release. 

It's a major win for Das, who only began a full-time photography career in February last year, after quitting his job in IT.

Gurumiran

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by miran gurunian (@gurumiran)

The veteran of the Beirut indie scene (real name Miran Gurunian) pays tribute to his Armenian roots with his latest single “Partsratsoum.” The song is based on a poem by Vahan Tekeyan, an Armenian poet and activist, known as The Prince of Armenian Poetry.

“I related a lot to the story — which is a popular poem in schools,” Gurunian told Arab News. “I composed the music to reflect the theme, which is about the advice offered by a father to his son: Aim, reach, and rise high, but take along your loved ones, because the higher up one reaches, the colder and lonelier it gets.” The track has a jazz-y, folk-y feel, with Makram Aboulhosn’s double bass, Delaney Stöckli’s cinematic string arrangement and Dani Shukri’s stuttering drum beat underpinning Gurunian’s typically tasteful guitar work. And it was written in a single day. “Everything fell into place effortlessly,” Gurunian said. 

Zahed Sultan 

“Born to a Kuwaiti father and Indian mother, I had the fluidity to straddle both cultures; navigating being bullied and feeling shame to find my (super)power,” the London-based multimedia artist wrote of his latest single, “Hindi Majnoon.” He described the track — auto-tuned vocals over a pounding Bollywood-style beat — as “a tribute to people who were ‘othered’ for being different in whichever way while growing up.” The accompanying video, shot between Kuwait and London, is, he said, “a journey through industrial crevices and societal tropes laced with nostalgia to bring you closer to the experience of migrant ‘workers’ living in Kuwait.”

Tayar

The Arabic indie duo (singer-songwriter Ahmad Farah and producer and filmmaker Bader Helalat) have released a new two-track EP called “Khams Sneen.” The title track started out as a folk song, according to Farah, but has since morphed into a largely synth-driven indie-pop number. It’s heavily inspired by US duo MGMT, Farah told Arab News, because “they wrote a lot of songs that discussed childhood and also had a sense of absurdity.”

Sara Naim

The Dubai-based photographer’s striking 2019 image “Broken Palm” is part of “Chemistry of Feeling,” a community exhibition of analog photography that runs until Sept. 21 at Dubai’s Gulf Photo Plus. “Drawing on the delicate connections between a tumultuous past year for human relationships and photography, this exhibition locates moments of slowness, micro- and macro- revolution, introspection, and the folding priorities of the present, captured in film format,” the gallery says of the show. “We invite viewers to engage with these varied personal stories, and in the process, meditate on what it is to feel, care, and see in a fraught contemporary landscape.”

LUMI 

The much-lauded, often-inactive Lebanese duo — Marc Codsi and Mayaline Hage — dropped the title track of their new EP “Eternity,” a four-track record written between 2019 and 2021 “while our home country Lebanon and the rest of the world went through unprecedented turmoil,” the duo said on social media. The record is “rooted in the feelings and emotions triggered by these strange times.”

On the title track, Hage’s dramatic vocals float over increasingly urgent instrumentation, which, they said, “resonates like an ode to transcendence, to what is above and beyond human experiences and resides inside of us, in a longing to stay connected to that energy. We find ourselves transported in a frenetic and delicious race, suspended between a wild and aggressive electronic rhythm and a transcendent voice coming from another dimension.”


Lebanese filmmaker ‘honored’ to receive prestigious award in Cannes

Lebanese filmmaker ‘honored’ to receive prestigious award in Cannes
The film was directed by Australian-Lebanese filmmaker and journalist Daizy Gedeon. Supplied
Updated 22 July 2021

Lebanese filmmaker ‘honored’ to receive prestigious award in Cannes

Lebanese filmmaker ‘honored’ to receive prestigious award in Cannes

DUBAI: Lebanese documentary “Enough: Lebanon’s Darkest Hour” took home the Movie That Matters Award 2021 at a Better World Fund (BWF) gala in Cannes.

Directed by Australian-Lebanese filmmaker and journalist Daizy Gedeon, the documentary follows her personal and independent introspection into Lebanon’s descent into a state of turmoil over recent years.

Writing on Instagram, Gedeon said: “I am truly honored to have received the Better World Fund’s Movie That Matters Award for my film ‘Enough: Lebanon’s Darkest Hour’ at the Cannes Film Festival this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Daizy Gedeon (@daizygedeon)

“This film lays bare all the insidious forces currently at work ruining my beautiful homeland, Lebanon.”

Gedeon and her family fled Lebanon in the 1970s during the country’s civil war.

The Movie That Matters Award was established in 2016 and is a rare honor handed by filmfestivals.com to moviemakers with a strong, inspiring message. Only a few flicks have received the award since its creation.

Shot over four years and across four continents, the film highlights the 2019 October revolution and the global social justice movement that was triggered among the millions of Lebanese diasporas who rallied to support their families and friends back home.

The documentary also features exclusive interviews with key political leaders such as prime minister, Saad Hariri, former justice minister, Salim Jreissati, Hezbollah minister, Muhammad Fneich, and governor of the central bank, Riad Salame.

Previous award winners and attendees at the BWF gala include Prince Albert II of Monaco, US actors Sharon Stone and Forest Whitaker, German filmmaker Wim Wenders, French explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, and American singer Mary J. Blige.


Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour discusses viral 1979 painting

Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour discusses viral 1979 painting
Jerusalem in the Heart, 1979. Supplied
Updated 22 July 2021

Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour discusses viral 1979 painting

Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour discusses viral 1979 painting

DUBAI: As you know, most artists develop an interest in art during their childhood and that’s what happened to me. I was good at art in school and I once won a children’s drawings competition for the United Nations when I was about 13. My family, my school and my village regarded me as an artist. When I finished school, it was as if I was brainwashed and couldn’t think of anything except art. 

I studied art, but in Jerusalem there wasn’t an actual art movement. Between 1967 and 1972, there wasn’t any artistic exhibition or activity. But I met some artists in 1972 and we decided to form a group. With the occupation, we printed posters and they were confiscated. Artists were sometimes imprisoned. 

Jerusalem in the Heart, 1979. Supplied

When I first got the idea and did the sketch of “Jerusalem in the Heart,” it was on the occasion of Land Day. I made a nice big sketch of a woman who wasn’t embracing Jerusalem, but an olive tree. But when the time came to execute it, some incident happened that turned my attention to drawing the city of Jerusalem and not the olive tree. With time, the Dome of the Rock became a symbol of Jerusalem and later, a symbol of all of Palestine.

The woman, for me, symbolizes a number of things. During the 1970s and 1980s, she represented revolution and homeland. Another aspect is her external appearance, especially as she wears the traditional embroidered Palestinian dress, which I find very beautiful. I come from the Birzeit village and I saw how my mother and grandmother were doing a lot of the physical work at home, in the fields, and making pottery. It was all done by women. So, they have an important role in society and their symbolism isn’t meaningless but has its roots and history. 

In those days when I painted a woman, I wanted to show her as a working one. I didn’t want her hands to be manicured and delicate. I wanted her to be working on the land, because she represents it. It’s not wrong to be delicate, but I wanted her hands to symbolize her strength and effort in life.