Front Line (2007) are a series of previously unseen photographs by Hrair Sarkissian which draw on the artist’s own Armenian identity to contemplate the uneasy predicament of a people and place with an unknown political destiny.
They take as their subject the war-torn enclave between Armenia and Azerbaijan – the self-proclaimed independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Throughout the centuries the claims over this territory have shifted, the borders been mapped and remapped, yet the repression of the region’s indigenous Armenians has persisted. Today, over a million of its Azeri and Armenian inhabitants remain displaced; last year saw some of the worst clashes for a decade, and Western powers are still trying to negotiate a long-term solution.
Created in 2007, the photographs depict 12 landscapes and 17 portraits of those who fought during the 1988-1994 war, displayed as a powerful installation. Through a sense of isolation, estrangement and haunting, the works raise questions about the price of war and the contradictions inherent within struggles for national independence.
“There are many firsts for Sarkissian in this work: it is the first time he has shown this series; his first body of work that includes direct portraits; and the first time he has moved away from traditional photographic display into installation. The form of the installation is reminiscent of tombs or a memorial, though those portrayed are still alive. A deeply poignant effect is created when the viewer enters the rooms and encounters and negotiates all seventeen suspended gazes looking back at them. This coupled with the seemingly vast empty spaces of the war torn landscapes portrayed in the large-scale photographs in the next room showcase the incredible strength of the artists work.”