Hrair Sarkissian, Execution Squares, 2008
Series of 14 framed C-prints. 13 images 125 x 160 cm, 1 image 125 x 175 cm. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.

In certain countries, the death penalty by public execution still exists for crimes such as treason and murder. Execution Squares (2008) depicts public squares in three Syrian cities–Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus–where this form of punishment occurred and in some cases, continues. These sites were commonly found in the heart of the city, where the community gathered for various everyday activities. The rationale being, to make visible to the public, the sentence that one would incur for a particular crime, equally, serving as a form of revenge for purported victims and their families. 

These executions are conceived as public events, where passersby become witnesses–willingly or not–to the dissolution of life. As a young teenager on his way to school, Sarkissian saw three bodies hanging in one of these squares—becoming a silent witness. As an adult, Sarkissian returned to these locations, documenting these empty squares at dawn—the time of these killings, to erase the trauma from his memory. The result is a public archive of that which is withheld from public record, By photographing these scenes, the artist enshrines them into history. The burnished sun-kissed buildings in these 14-life size photos reveal a fragile paradox between the beauty and tranquillity of these locations and the political and social realities that they disguise. 

Hrair Sarkissian: The Other Side of Silence is organised by Bonniers Konsthall, Sharjah Art Foundation, and Bonnefanten.

Curated by Dr Theodor Ringborg, Artistic Director, Bonniers Konsthall; Dr Omar Kholeif, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation; and Stijn Huijts, Artistic Director, Bonnefanten.