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.”


Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

Updated 14 October 2019

Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

  • “It (Saudi Movies) will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi,” Shahrukh Khan 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia took another step toward establishing its place on the global entertainment map with a major industry event in Riyadh on Sunday.

The Joy Forum19 brought together entertainment promoters and pioneers from around the world, along with global stars such as Indian actor and film producer Shah Rukh Khan; Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director Jackie Chan and Belgian actor and martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The event was organized by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which signed several important agreements on the day, including a financing guarantee program for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Participants are ushered in on the first day of the Joy Forum19 event in Riyadh. (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

“Our message is for both, locally and internationally. Me and my generation suffered a lot, we had lots of time on our hands,” GEA chairman Turki Al-Sheikh said at the event.

“Today you are witnessing things we have never had in Saudi Arabia. We have 300,000 visitors to our events, and our sales have hit 80 percent.

“Saudi Arabia has never seen anything like Riyadh Season, we have over 400 sponsors, which is unprecedented.”

Al-Sheikh announced that the authority had named a stadium after singer Mohammed Abdo, the “Artist of Arabs,” and another after Abu Baker Salim, the father of Khaleeji music. 


READ MORE: Three MoUs signed at opening day of Joy Forum19 in Riyadh



Drunken master

The actors expressed what it meant to be movie stars and how wide-reaching their influence could be.

Jackie Chan recalled that when he was a new actor, he often acted like a drunken fighter until he realized that he has a responsibility towards younger fans. 

Jackie Chan: no longer a "drunken master". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“All over the world I keep drinking and fighting (in films).  I realized that I made drunken master cool — so I stopped,” he said. One of Chan's most popular movies was the 1978 action comedy martial arts film "Drunken Master".

“When you’re 20 you don’t have this inner thought — anything that makes the audience laugh you do, but later on especially (when I went) to Africa so many years ago — they started doing the drunken style — the children look up to me. So, I realized we have a responsibility to the children so all those years I corrected those actions: no dirty comedy words or action,” he said.

He attributed his awareness in being responsible for the content he produces to the fans. “I’m really thankful to the fans in making me a good actor.”

Chan spoke about his experience in acting martial arts in both the United States and Asia. “I realized we have two different markets one for America another for Asia. They are totally two different things.”

The safety measures the US takes for stunts is very impeccable making sure of the wellbeing of the actor comes first. However, in Asia it’s a different story, “In Asia when I want to do a stunt, I roll, jump (and then go to the) hospital, he said laughingly.

“It’s so difficult sometimes in the USA so many rules- Jackie Chan movies: NO RULES!” he said and received applause from the audience.

 

Good start

Jean Claude Van Damme gave a shout out and a big thank you to all his “brother and sisters from Saudi Arabia,” He said he got a royal treatment fit for “Kings and Queens”. He went on to reveal that his hotel room at the Ritz Carlton Riyadh was so big he could easily “roller-skate” in it.

Jean Claude Van Damme: "Let's do a movie together". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“I’m honored to be invited here. I know it’s your first time to do this event, but I know it will have a very bright future and I hope next year you will invite more people,” he said.

He said he may not be a “good talker” but expressed his joy at being in Saudi Arabia saying. “I’m happy to be here and I hope to have more connection later with the audience.”

Van Damme remarked how that in every country in the world you have treasure actors and movies with different cultures, “In the Middle East I don’t know what the taste will be, but I know they love American, Asian and Indian movies. They have a broad taste. (Saudi Arabia) should do a movie with all of us together!”

 

Crossing barriers

Sharukh Khan emphasized the importance of every country telling their story through movies; “As long as we are telling the story in whatever language it doesn’t matter. Cinema crosses all barriers.”
 

Shahrukh Khan: "I'd audition for a Saudi movie". (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

With the opening of Saudi Arabia to the world and Cinemas, he said, “I can’t wait to talk about the Saudi films...It will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi.”

“The stories that you tell should talk about goodness and people should be engaged with the content and it should bring them together. People want to laugh and sadly have to cry, to be entertained and to feel.”

Sharukh noted that Saudi Arabia has started to make movies and he’s watched the King Faisal movie, "Born a King". 

“You’ll always find gems in all movie industries and I think there’s are gems in Saudi and as a matter of fact one of the things I’d like to do is audition for a Saudi movie … Please give me an opportunity!” he said, eliciting a thunderous applause from the audience.


Red carpet

Abdulaziz AlMuzaini, co-founder and CEO of the Saudi Arabian Myrkott Animation Studio; gave a heartfelt thanks full of gratitude to King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying: “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have dreamed of this moment or this panel.”

Some of the celebrities invited to the event walk the red carpet. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

Lebanese actor Wahid Jalal, who was the voice of Long John Silver in Treasure Island, came onstage for the opening of the event. “Children love heroes and they try to imitate them,” he said. 

He also delighted the crowd by performing Silver’s famous laugh.

Some of the celebrities who walked down the red carpet were American actor Jason Momoa, star of Aquaman; Amr Adeeb, Balqis Fathi, Yusra, Boosy Shalabi, Lojien and Aseel Omran, Mohammed Hamaki, Nawal AlZoghbi, Talal Salama, Ahlam Al-Shamsi, Hussain AlJismi, Suad Abdulla, Ibrahem Alharbi, Tariq Alali and Abdulnaser Darweesh.

The gala dinner hosted 500 guests and was a private event, but the red carpet captured the essence of where Saudi is moving to culturally.

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