A discussion over the cliff with Hratch Arbach

By Margaux Bonnet

Hratch Arbach doesn’t want to be labeled as an Artist. He sees himself like a man interested in the human existence and always tempted to try new experiences according to his way. His demanding usage of words and concepts fits with the challenging mission he assigned to himself, namely raising the consciousness of man to a certain level of responsibility. Through his installations using diverse kinds of media, he sends us an invitation to an intellectual and emotional journey.

Because our collective is interested in art but above all in human beings, each article is an opportunity to make discover a person and a story behind performances that also feeds their comprehension. Hratch has accepted to join our project and to share.

Let’s lean over the cliff with him.

Over the cliff, Hratch Arbach

  • Leaving Damascus : first act of liberty in the search of the inner truth.

“I was born in 1975 in Damascus of a Syrian journalist father and an Armenian mother who devoted herself to teach us the Armenian heritage. I was exposed to multicultural background since I was born as Christian in a Muslim country living with Jewish neighbors. For me there were no apparent differences between us, except the way we pray. Since I was a child, my only dream was to live in Paris, as if I created my own (chosen) hometown. It was then just a childhood dream that in time became an obsession. I do consider it as my first act of liberty (detachment). That dream was my starting point to escape reality : I physically left Damascus without any regret and moved at year 2000 to Paris where I spent 15 years in the post-dream experience. I currently live in New York City. The notion of belonging for me is completely relative.”

“My relationship with my native country has changed by time and distance. It started the moment I decided to leave Damascus, during my stay in Paris and specially the first years, my priority was to be integrated into the French society and get my PhD in molecular biology. I saw Damascus as a place to visit my parents and what’s left of my friends and relatives. Things started to change when I joined the art school : I was finally liberated from any social status and began my journey into finding my inner truth…. My native country was part of this journey.”

Over the cliff, Hratch Arbach

  • Syria my forgotten land : starting point to question identity and human heritage

“In 2011, I started to question myself about the rupture I created with what supposed to be my homeland and my absence of homesick feelings. Syria my forgotten land installation was the starting point of that long process to reshape and define my complex and vague relationship with a land where my two original heritages lived.”

“I worked on photographs of the series Over the cliff between 2008 – 2012, as a part of the installation. As I was reading this pictures, they revealed to me the exterior look that I have for Syria. A huge rocky mountain consisting of distance and time is separating one from the other. Alternating between the mythical Syria and my life experience in the contemporary reality, the photographs reveal the loss of forms and signs, a desperate measure to be detached from history. The choice of big format was imposed by my strong desire to unveil and expose these sceneries which mourn ancient glories. I was chasing human traces trying to evoke the effect of time on our reality as Human beings and nature as a witness of human fragility, brutality and our temporary existence. All the great civilizations that passed by this geographical and cultural -man made- entity named Syria then vanished. War is one of the tools that can accelerate this process. The question that remains is what heritage are we leaving to the future generations, as a memory of our existence?”


“The Airport gate image represents the moment when you reach the point of no return, when you think you are jumping into freedom only to find out that you are trapped in the vicious circle of your past and your present, this constant out of place that you always try to escape from. Isn’t liberty another human illusion?”

  • The duty of the artist toward society : offering an alternative understanding

“Art lives in the soul of the artist as an inner energy, but the artist after all is a human being, a man that has a place in the society, interacts with all the diversity and complexity that compose the human life, and is committed as any other person living in the community. A critical element interferes with the initial process of creation, that is the artist’s moral consciousness which relates to his human nature. ”

“That’s why I believe that art can play a very important role in our society. We are surrounded by the mass media manipulation that is controlled by politic-economic forces; the majority of people live under this authoritative influence, but in paradoxal way that creates doubted atmosphere in which people live in crisis of faith. Art as cultural factor can be among counterbalance forces to guide the people to a certain conscience. One of the major contribution of an artist who is concerned about the goodness of our society is to inspire the truth. It has not to be limited only by pointing, questioning or recording our human experience but to suggest an alternative understanding as a solution. This is an urgent matter.”


“Most Syrian artists followed their artistic moral, some of them their personal ambitions and participate somehow in the mass manipulation process by using their practices as an instrument of control, thinking they have some kind of power. In the early stage of the crisis, most had an irresponsible behavior : they used the violence and the victimization as their main subject ignoring the complexity of Syrian catastrophic conflict. Rather than to try to give us an understanding about the background to this multi-factorial of cross-cultural, economical, political conflict, they supplied it and called for division.”

“Together, we are concerned with protecting the human spirit and preparing the path for future generations. Big changes may need miracles but what we can at least give as a starting point is hope.”



Hratch Arbach’s website : http://hratcharbach.com

Dinner Without An Agenda with Laura Raicovich for the Queens museum : http://www.queensmuseum.org/2015/06/dinner-without-an-agenda-with-laura-raicovich



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