Category Archives: Entertainment

Photo exhibit traces genocide’s impact on traditional Assyrian garments

By Joe Snell | November 2022

A photo exhibit showcasing traditional Assyrian clothing from the early 20th century premiered on Oct. 19 at the State Parliament of New South Wales.

The collection of black and white portraits, titled “Assyria: A Woven History,” traces the changes in clothing styles brought on by the SEFYO genocide of 1915. That period during World War I saw the mass slaughter and deportation of about 250,000 Assyrians by Ottoman forces and Kurdish tribes.

“A lot of people don’t really know much about the genocide,” said Ramsin Edward, the exhibit’s curator. “They’ll know there was loss of life, but they don’t think that deep into what else it impacted. We wanted to demonstrate the impact that the genocide had on folk garments, particularly in influencing certain elements and motifs, and also show how displacement has impacted the transmission of traditional knowledge.”


Each Assyrian village maintains a unique clothing style with its own history. For centuries, it was up to these villages to pass their styles on to the next generation.

But as World War I approached, Assyrians were uprooted and moved to larger cities or overseas, leaving behind resources for handcrafting their clothing.

Some Assyrians abandoned the practice entirely, distancing themselves from their identity as newly-built nation states pressed for assimilation. 

Others continued the tradition, but replaced handmade fabrics and natural dyes with machine-made textiles and imported materials, often of cheaper quality. 

Edward said the patterns and motifs relevant to communities before the genocide also began to fade from the clothing.

Assyrians today continue to wear the traditional clothing, known as julet khomala, often for large celebrations including weddings and Kha b’Nissan (New Year), but Edward said these outfits no longer are identical to those worn before SEYFO.

“There were a lot of technical things that we lost as a result of the genocide,” Edward said. “Photographs from Alqosh or Baghdeda show the textiles, the tapestries and the headpieces are the same, but the actual dresses themselves, with all of the different colors and shiny fabrics, these are things that wouldn’t have been worn about 100 years ago.”


Edward was approached in late September by MP Hugh McDermott to produce a cultural exhibit at the State Parliament. The regional group of bi-partisan politicians included New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns, the Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure, and the Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper. 

Edward utilized the extensive photo archive of the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association (ACSYA), which digitized a series of photos from different libraries. The photos he selected showed Assyrians in julet khomala across different villages in Mesopotamia. 

The exhibit was hosted by the Assyrian National Council of Australia (ANCAU) and McDermott, who represents the New South Wales District of Prospect that is home to a large Assyrian community.

McDermott co-chairs the Parliamentary Friends of Assyria Initiative, established in 2009 to advocate for the rights of Assyrian communities in Australia as well as those in the homeland.

Along with the photos, the event showcased Assyrian paintings of former Australian Prime Ministers. Assyrian community leaders gave speeches and the Ashur Dance Group performed traditional dances accompanied by live singing.

“This was a fantastic event celebrating the history of the Assyrian people, discussing their right to self-determination and paying respects to Assyrians who were victims of persecution of genocide,” McDermott wrote after the event. 


Traditional garment making today is confronted by a number of challenges.

Increasing globalization has chipped away at indigenous group’s uniqueness, according to a statement by ACSYA. That’s why documenting traditional processes, the statement continued, is so important to keeping the culture alive.

Exhibits on the history of julet khomala have traveled across Australia. Traditional clothing was featured last month at the Assyrian Music and Cultural Festival in Sydney. Mannequins posed in modern-made garments from different villages.

That collection is now headed to Greenacre in New South Wales in a collaborative project with the Babylon Cultural Association to showcase garments specifically from Tur Abdin. 

“Culture is in a constant state of flux, influencing and being influenced,” ACSYA wrote on their site. “Prioritizing the documentation of Assyrian folk garments and traditional garment making is not to confine it conservatively, but to invest in the social and economic development of indigenous Assyrians, as well as maintain this rich heritage for present and future generations.”

ACSYA is still looking for a semi-permanent home for the exhibit, Edward said. 

And its mission to retain traditional garments and pass on their knowledge remains. ACSYA next March aims to launch a new book project titled “Garments of Assyria” that photographs modern Assyrians in the traditional clothing.

“A lot of the work that we do when we promote our culture is done within our own community,” Edward said. “It’s very important that we branch out, that we connect with diverse communities to share culture.” 

Ancient Assyrian healing practice revived at national convention 

By Joe Snell | September 2022

An ancient healing practice thousands of years old was revived Sept. 4 in Arizona.

Incantation bowls are ceramic bowls inscribed with healing prayers.

The first found bowls date back to the 2nd century in the Middle East, but scholars believe the practice could trace back to the ancient Babylonian empire.

The bowls were used to cure physical injury, safeguard during childbirth and protect against wild animals.

And they would be used differently across Assyrian, Jewish and Nazarean Mandaic communities.

But in the 1800s, Christian missionaries stifled the practice, believing it to be involved with magic and sorcery.

Incantation bowls were revived by Esther Elia, an Assyrian artist in Albuquerque, who last year began a project to recreate these bowls.

“The more Assyrians that contribute to this project will make our name greater, will give more awareness about who we are as I start to put these exhibitions in our contemporary galleries,” Elia said.

“I think people are interested in who we are and this is a great, easy way for people to start to understand who we are, what we care about, what we’re praying for and what our stories are from our own mouths. Not from people who have interviewed us, not from people who are writing about us in the past tense or in the current, ‘This is who the Assyrians are,’ we’re telling people who we are.”

On Sept. 4, Esther led a workshop at the Assyrian American National Convention to teach the history of these bowls.

Participants then wrote down their favorite verses or stories and created bowls of their own.

“[It’s] our ability to name ourselves, to put our history down, recapture an artform that has been lost to time and tell our story in our own words,” said Mariam Pera, a workshop participant and Assyrian based in Chicago.

*Featured photo by Joe Snell

You can learn more about the Prayer Bowls project here: Esther Elia Prayer Bowls

Mural spreads Assyrian visibility at suburban Chicago high school

By Joe Snell | January 2022 | Photos provided

Mary Shamaon, a student at Niles North High School in a suburb of Chicago, looked across a 16-foot-long blank canvas with a paintbrush in hand. Along with 30 Assyrian students, staff and alumni, she was about to embark on a month’s long project to create a mural for her school that would bridge ancient Assyria with its modern history.

It was an intimidating moment, recalled group leader Ramina Samuel, because in a few months the canvas would be unveiled to administrators, other students, and the local community in a hallway leading to the school’s library. 

And their artistic experience as a group included a few virtual workshops.

“How can you trust us to hold a brush and put something on this canvas,” Samuel recalled Shamaon saying to Noora Badeen, an Assyrian artist in Chicago tasked with helping the group complete the artwork.


The coronavirus pandemic brought to the suburban high school of about 2,000 students a new reality of remote learning and online meetings. The school’s Assyrian club sponsors Samuel and Carmen Albazi had to think creatively about getting the students together.

Their first few attempts were fruitless, Samuel admitted. In the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, they tried a cooking show and discussions on Assyrian history. But attendance waned. They even began combining activities with nearby Niles West High School. Nothing seemed to work, she said.

It was during this moment of desperation that Samuel and Albazi discovered the LatinX club working on a unique project of their own: a mural that showcased their community’s history. The project sparked an idea in Samuel and Albazi to paint an Assyrian mural.

Caroline Benjamin, the school’s student activities director, jumped at the idea. The group was paired with Noora Badeen, an Assyrian artist in the city that had experience painting murals. Badeen was asked to help the group come up with a theme, teach ancient Assyrian patterns and then apply those skills to a mural that would live permanently inside the hallways of the school. 

And she had to do most of the teaching virtually. 

“We were dealing with the pandemic and with getting vaccinated or people getting sick,” Samuel said. “To complete such a large scale project during the pandemic, I think that’s a highlight.”


Drawing has been a hobby of William Yonadam’s for a long time, he said. That’s why he was eager to participate in the project.

Yonadam, an Assyrian custodian at the school, along with Assyrian alumni and staff, were extended an invitation to participate in the project early in the process. They joined students for virtual meetings hosted by Badeen twice a month to identify a theme for the mural and how to include their Assyrian American experiences.

They settled on blending ancient Assyria with its present and future. The mural wasn’t just something for them to relate to, a participate told The Journal, it was an opportunity to share their culture with others.

“As Assyrians we are now visible,” said Ghanima Birkho, an Assyrian custodian who joined the project.

As coronavirus restrictions loosened, meetings turned into weekly in-person workshops. The group learned ancient art patterns and a small scale of what the mural could look like was created before paint was put on canvas.

But it was difficult to pull the project off, Samuel recalled, as artists had to work in shifts.

“We had limitations of how many people could work on the project and we had to be careful about space and wearing masks and gloves and disinfecting,” she said.


Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, founder of the world’s first known library, stands at the center of the piece, a nod to the group’s educational theme. And it’s purely by coincidence, Samuel said, that the mural now leads students to the school’s library. 

“The process of creating the mural taught me a lot more about my people and my ancestors and my culture,” said Oliver Albazi, a former student at the school. “If it can teach me more, it can undoubtedly teach anyone who has the pleasure of passing by it in the halls.”

The name of the mural, “Upstream, We Take Flight” came at the very end of the process in May 2021. Blue waves blanketed against the bottom of the canvas represent going against the flow of a river, a brief on the document said, and an eagle soaring among skyscrapers is seen “flying toward the future.”

“We usually go to museums and see this art from a bigger scale, a larger picture of what relics we have, but to see the details, for example the beard of Lamassu and the features, Badeen really helped us see the art from a new perspective,” Samuel said.

A small ceremony to unveil the mural included the principal and staff. In September, the group showcased the work to other students and teachers. That same month, parents and the wider community were invited to a grand ceremony. 

“The mural achieves visibility of the Assyrian students and as a result, their culture,” Samuel said. “A piece of the students became visible to others. It’s a visual for them to relate to and also convey a message.”

Assyrian Club of Niles North High School

Founded around 1993, the Assyrian Club of Niles North High School meets weekly and organizes trips to libraries, museums and cultural events including a cooking workshop at the Assyrian Kitchen to experience the “world’s oldest cookbook.” Membership is open to all students, not just Assyrians, because Samuel said it’s “a way to spread our culture and celebrate our identity.”

Gilgamesh-inspired contest draws composers from around the world

June 2021 | By Christina Salem

Composers from China, France, Iran, Russia, Spain, Scotland, the United States and more faced off with musical scores in an annual competition inspired by the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The Gilgamesh International Composition Competition, launched in 2020 by the Gilgamesh Art and Culture Foundation based out of Orange County, California, collected 90 submissions from around the world. The foundation’s vision is to use the power of art to bring together people from different cultural backgrounds and learn more about the Assyrian heritage.

“Representation of our rich cultural history in this community benefits everyone when we share new perspectives and the joy of the arts and music,” said Honiball Joseph, founder and CEO of the foundation. 

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient poem in Akkadian text from around 1200 BCE. It is one of the earliest written stories on earth. It was found in Nineveh in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 668 to 627 BCE. 

The second annual Gilgamesh competition challenged composers to produce chamber musical scores, a form of classical music made for small groups of instruments. Scores were due on Jan. 1 and winners announced April 11. 

The winning composition came from Tomasz Skweres of Regensburg, Germany. Here is a list of the top ten awardees:

10. Payman Mansouri of Tehran, Iran
9. Mischat Tangian of Berlin, Germany
8. Andrew Lovett of Princeton, NJ, USA
7. David Roche of Cambridge, UK
6. Emir Can Pehlivan of Istanbul, Turkey
5. Mate Bologh of Budapest, Hungary
4. Myrto Nizami of Den Haag, Netherlands
3. Mohammad H. Javaheri of Tehran, Iran
2. Rojin Monibi of Tehran, Iran
1. Tomasz Skweres of Regensburg, Germany

A separate award for the best composition written for the duduk, an ancient Armenian double reed woodwind instrument made of apricot wood, was by Henrik Hoffman of Cape Town, South Africa.

Following the awards ceremony was a performance of the finalist’s pieces.

The judges team included 2017 Pulitizer Prize winner for Music and 2018 Guggenheim fellow Du Yun, Los Angeles-based composer and pianist Thomas Kotcheff, and Iranian contemporary musician and PhD Canidate at Aristotle University, Arshia Samsaminia.

“Many educated individuals have studied Gilgamesh because of this competition, and composers have created music based on this epic,” Joseph said.

Arizona billboards trumpet Kha b’Nissan

By Joe Snell | March 2021 | Photos provided

WASHINGTON — Three digital billboards in Arizona on Tuesday unveiled displays recognizing the Assyrian New Year, also known as Kha b’Nissan.

The billboards were born out of a nation-wide art competition sponsored by the Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona (AACO). They aim to educate the wider community about Assyrian culture.

(Photo by Ninorta Kasso)

“We’re not just sharing our culture amongst ourselves, we’re spreading it out throughout different communities in Arizona,” said AACO President Ninorta Kasso.

The Assyrian New Year, commonly referred to as Kha b’Nissan and Akitu, is a twelve-day festival culminating on April 1. It marks the first day of the new year and also the start of Spring. The holiday is a symbol of revival. Today, the celebration is marked by festivals, parades and parties.

This year, however, many of these events have been cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. Assyrian organizations are now forced to think outside of the box to celebrate. That led AACO to brainstorm a billboard art competition.

The competition began on Feb. 3. AACO publicized the event online and also reached out to local art students. After a month, submissions had arrived from across the nation by both Assyrian as well as non-Assyrian artists.

“It was great to see that different mindset,” Kasso said. “When you tell a non-Assyrian about who Assyrians are and explain this is what our history is, this is the Tree of Life, the Ishtar Gate and the Assyrian flag, you give them all of this information and say create something, and then for them to create a billboard design that matches exactly that… it was really amazing to see.”

Four judges, two Assyrians and two non-Assyrians, reviewed the entries. On March 18, winners were announced: Elizabeth Tullo from Phoenix for her submission of the Tree of Life, and Rabel Betshmuel from Chicago for his submission of the Ishtar Gate. Each winner received $250.

Artwork by Elizabeth Tullo (above) and Rabel Betshmuel (below) that will be showcased on three billboards in Arizona. (Billboard artwork provided)

“The billboard’s scale and location will reach a massive amount of people, giving them a good introduction to our culture,” Betshmuel wrote to the Journal. “Great design has the ability to reiterate our existence.”

The billboard designs, funded primarily through AACO with one-third of donations coming from within the community, will run from March 22 – April 11.

AACO was founded in 2012 to promote cultural education across social and educational events. The group has hosted lectures, festivals and social mixers in order to “spark an interest and love for Assyrian culture and heritage,” the organization’s site reads, including building strong networks within the community.

Part of that network building includes a recent proclamation by the Arizona House of Representatives recognizing March 21- April 1 as the Assyrian New Year across the state.

“I think it’s important to share our struggles and also share our celebrations,” Kasso said. “This is to promote that celebration and to educate others about what is Kha b’Nissan, what is the history of the new year, what is going on this particular date of April 1, what does the number 6771 represent, so all of those things tie into not just keeping our traditions to ourselves, but expanding it to other communities and other people.”

Assyrian diaspora blooms in virtual art exhibit

August 2020 | By Christina Salem | Photo contributed

Detroit — The online gallery of Assyrian art titled “Diaspora In Bloom” went live this month —  “transcending borders” with a virtual format accessible to all. Inspired by a world on lockdown, it’s the very first of its kind for the global Assyrian community. 

Featuring more than 30 works from six emerging Assyrian artists, artwork is showcased through a variety of forms including photography, painting, posters, drawing, pottery and graphic design.

“I hope that, no matter someone’s background, they leave the exhibition seeing that we all have so much more in common as humans than we’re sometimes led to believe,” said Nardin Sarkis, who, along with Akadina Yadegar curated the show. “[The exhibit] is a chance for them to understand what it means for a stateless people like Assyrians to navigate the world of borders and bans and nevertheless protect our culture and way of life.” 

Last year marked the first “Diaspora in Bloom” event, hosted in San Jose. 

Sarkis was inspired to use the phrase “Diaspora in Bloom” by an Assyrian idiom his grandmother taught him: “Nissan beh kha vardah leh haveh,” which translates to “Spring does not occur with one flower alone”. 

When researching artists for this year’s event, Sarkis said that he and Yadegar sought fresh and forward looking artists.

“By listening and acknowledging the harsh reality of borders that continue to separate Assyrians around the world, they have created beautiful and meaningful artwork that deserves to be reflected on,” he said.

One of the six featured artists, Rabel Betshmuel, said his series of ancient Assyrian reliefs titled “Collected Fragments” was inspired by his nana Rachel after she made a quilt for him.

“The composition with the black cross is in remembrance of my paternal grandmother,” he said. “I left some areas void of pattern and color to represent the ongoing cultural destruction in Iraq.”

For some Assyrians, the show validates lived experience and allows for some intermission by showcasing cultural beauty in a contemporary fashion. 

Beneel Babaei, an Assyrian who viewed the virtual exhibit, said that older generations of Assyrians should experience updated and modern interpretations of the life they grew up having.

“Cultural preservation takes a new form with ‘Diaspora In Bloom’ every year,” Babaei said. “To walk the line between innovating and preserving is no small feat, and these [curators] have nailed it twice now.”

Yadegar and Sarkis took the opportunity to spotlight progressive Assyrian art that provokes thought, elevates modern over ancient, and inspires change. 

“The show can speak to the political moment by challenging traditional conceptions of borders by shattering the illusion of ‘us’ and ‘them’” Sarkis said.

The exhibition is free and open to the public to virtually attend, on view August 15-30.

To walk through the gallery (and enjoy a guided tour), click here.

A conversation with rising indie singer-songwriter Yasmeen

August 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji

PHOENIX – From writing ballads in high school to hitting four million streams on a recorded single, Assyrian singer-songwriter Yasmeen has been persistent about pursuing her career in performance, and her break into the popular music scene is no accident. 

The Arizona-based indie artist spoke with The Assyrian Journal about her musical past and present and the inspirations behind her songs.

From child’s play to the big screen

Writer, director and illustrator Scott Christian Sava on Netflix’s “Animal Crackers,” his family and what it means to be Assyrian

July 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji

CHICAGO — When Scott Christian Sava was studying illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in the late 1980s, computer animation barely existed. He had gone to school to become a painter “like my uncles before me,” his wildest dreams entailing working as an illustrator for Marvel’s Spider-Man comics (spoiler alert – that dream came true). It’s only understandable, then, that the prospect of creating an animated children’s movie to premiere on a streaming service didn’t seem realistic.

On July 24, however, the Assyrian-Sicilian writer, director and illustrator witnessed his original animated film, “Animal Crackers,” premiere on Netflix. 

An “Animal Crackers” poster, designed by Sava.

Sava is a Yonkers native born to an Assyrian mother and Sicilian father. His work might be recognizable to many; he’s exercised his talents behind the scenes on a number of classics from “Casper the Friendly Ghost” to “Star Trek.” 

These landmark moments in his career, however, were born of humble beginnings.

As a university student, Sava snagged an internship at SEGA that led to his work in video game design at Atari. Eventually, Sava found himself working on “Star Trek.”

“That was a huge milestone, getting to paint the covers of ‘Star Trek’,” he said.

His teenage dream of working on Spider-Man comics wasn’t out the window; after about 17 years of pitching his work at comic conventions, he finally heard a “yes.” He attributes the slow but steady success to his newfound skill in animation and CGI, styles also new to many creative companies at the time.

“Rather than fitting in, I stood out so much that they had that they had to hire me.” Sava said.

Sava worked roles for various companies as what he describes as a “cog in the machine” of their creative processes. It was after his work on Spider-Man, however, that “Animal Crackers” found its way into existence.

“The boys were maybe six or seven [years old],” Sava said, recalling a day spent in their backyard at his family’s Tennessee home, around the time when he had started writing comic books for his twin sons. “We were eating animal crackers and I said, ‘Hey, what if, when you eat a lion cookie you turn into a lion, and, you know, you eat a giraffe cookie and you turn into a giraffe?’ The boys loved it,” Sava said.  

Over the next few years, he toyed with the story premise, eventually transforming it into a children’s book before one of his friends suggested he turn it into a screenplay. Despite having no prior experience writing screenplays, Sava took on the venture. 

“It changed my life, just going ‘What the heck? Why not?” he said. “So I do that, and fast forward a couple years after that, and I meet with Harvey Weinstein, who says he wants to turn it into a movie.” 

While that venture didn’t work out, Sava said the experience encouraged him to independently pursue turning his story into a movie. Like many creatives, Sava faced challenges of securing funding for his project — that is, until he found a sponsor.  

“There are, like, 12 people between me and the finances. It was like, I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy,” he said. “We went from food stamps and our house in foreclosure to 10 million dollars in our bank account. And, suddenly, we’re making a movie.”

Soon, cast members began latching onto the project.

“The one person I wanted was Ian McKellen,” Sava said. “He was, you know, the guy in my head when I was writing Horatio P. Huntington,” an antagonist in the story. “After a few weeks, we got the word back that he said yes. And we were just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s insane.”

Actors Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, Raven-Symoné and Patrick Warburton also signed on.

“We had to go back to our investor to go ask for more money to cover all of this,” Sava said, “and the investor said, ‘Sure, no problem.’” With the addition of star talent, Sava estimates the movie’s budget increased to $13 million.

All that remained was finding voices to play the lead characters, Owen and Zoe.

John Krasinski, an actor apparently unfamiliar to Sava at the time (“This was in 2014. I’d never seen “The Office!”), agreed to play Owen and brought on a voice to play Zoe: his wife, Emily Blunt. 

The movie, which Sava co-directed with animator and film director Tony Bancroft, tells the story of a family who must work to protect their circus with the help of magical animal crackers. Amid the action, a few characters are faced with the tough decisions to choose between their passions and other obstacles.

Sava’s intrigue with the theme of staying true to oneself — and one’s passion — didn’t appear out of the blue. He comments on his own experience pursuing the arts and the trope of parents nudging their children into other careers.

Sava, pictured with his mother, at the British Museum. Sava recalls admiring the Assyrian exhibit showcased at the museum. (Photo courtesy of Scott Christian Sava)

“My cousins….pursued real careers,” Sava said. “I didn’t. I can see both sides…it’s a very, very rational thing” for parents to encourage their kids to pursue a career that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. 

“But what kind of life is it where you’re living a lie?” he said. “Where…you have talents that you’re not pursuing?” 

He said of his view of the Assyrian community, “it’s amazing to see what kind of talent we have out there. I think a lot of traditional Assyrians would be surprised at…how much talent is in our blood.”

He went on to detail the “thirteen or fourteen” books he’s already written about dinosaurs, robots, pirates and magic carpets, even hinting at a mystical Assyrian-themed story he said he’d like to expand upon in the future. 

“I like writing for kids. I like magical stuff. I like stuff that, you know, is funny…and just light hearted,” Sava said. “There’s enough reality here; I just want to get away from that. That’s what I’d like to do more of.”

‘Diaspora in Bloom’ shines light on contemporary Assyrian artists

Uniquely curated gallery connects history of homeland with modernity of diaspora

June 2019 | By Rebecca Pirayou | Photos contributed

SAN JOSE — Contemporary Assyrian art exhibition “Diaspora in Bloom: Assyrians in the 20th Century & Beyond” opened at Art Ark Gallery in San Jose on June 1 with over 150 guests in attendance.

The exhibition is a first of its kind, spotlighting contemporary art from the Assyrian-American community and featuring over 30 works including photography, paintings, posters, drawings, pottery, video, and graphic design work.

“The whole goal of this exhibit is to elevate the modern over the ancient, spotlight contemporary Assyrian artists, and create a new experience for our community and share it with the larger Bay Area community,” said Akadina Yadegar, who curated the exhibition alongside Nardin Sarkis.  

Yadegar and Sarkis were inspired to create “Diaspora in Bloom” after visiting an art show and realizing they wanted to curate something that not only represented them as Assyrians culturally but also related to their modern generation. They began planning the independent project about a year ago, picking a gallery that could execute their vision, securing financing through crowdfunding, and finding artists through social media.

“The type of art we were trying to curate was very particular,” Sarkis said. “We had a very strong vision for what we wanted included in the show, so it took a lot of time and we ended up finding spectacular artists that totally spoke to our vision.”

Universal themes of identity, community, diaspora, and cultural continuity were highlighted by works from Assyrian-American artists Atra Givarkes, Esther Elia and Rabel Betshmuel. The exhibition tells the story of the Assyrian community in the 20th century to present day.

The exhibition’s title references the Assyrian idiom, ‘Spring does not occur with one flower alone.’

“A movement does not occur with just one person – it takes a field of flowers to bloom in order for Spring to arrive,” said the gallery’s website. “‘Diaspora in Bloom’ brings together the works of a nation that has been scattered around the globe, and has still found a way to blossom into a movement.”

The layout of the gallery was intentional, according to Yadegar and Sarkis, beginning with the ancient culture with portrayals of the homeland and establishing who Assyrians are and moving into the 20th century with depictions of the Assyrian language. The gallery ends on pieces that represent the modern day.

Artist Rabel Betshmuel’s ‘Unadorned’ project takes ancient history and modernizes it through aerial photos of the Assyrian homeland illustrated through lines, shapes, texture, and color. His work is followed by a TEDx program which provides background on who the Assyrians are, giving visitors who do not know much about Assyrians historical context.

The Assyrian language is depicted through the calligraphy work of Atra Givarkes and leads into photos from the Dominican Archives of Assyrian women in the 1960s in the Nineveh plains.

The exhibit ends with ‘objects,’ which curator Yadegar describes as “what you see in your home growing up if you were Assyrian in America, what was in your home that wasn’t in your friend’s home,” paying homage to childhood nostalgia.

Esther Elia, who has been creating art for four years, showcased paintings of refugees and migration from the Middle East. Her work highlights themes of identity, community, diaspora, and first generation. She attributes her paintings to her self-consciousness of being half-Assyrian.

“I felt like I had these narrative that I grew up with about our journey from Iran to America but I didn’t know where to place them and I didn’t know how to be mixed and how to be half-Assyrian,” she said. “It really came out of this journey of self-conscious where I was like ‘How do I be Assyrian?’”

“I felt so proud to be celebrating young, brilliant Assyrian artists’ works that focused on blending our past with our present,” said Eden Kiryakos, who attended the opening reception. “We need motivated young Assyrians such as Akadina and Nardin to keep our culture strong by creating events that are relatable and enjoyable to our generation.”

According to guests of the exhibit, the curated space tells a story that strategically and successfully connects ancient history, migration in the 20th century, and modern day Assyrians living in diaspora. This story connects ancestors, grandparents/parents, and their children.

As for non-Assyrians, the goal is to have a better sense of modern-day Assyrians.

“If you’ve heard about Assyrians it’s because you studied it when you were little and now it’s like ‘Oh they still exist’ and they’re here in this gallery and they’re here in the world,” Yadegar said.

Yadegar and Sarkis hope the exhibit will invoke thought and reflection on the Assyrian identity both past and present. While the art is provocative, they aspire for exhibit goers to leave their gallery feeling refreshed, forging a renewed sense of confidence in their Assyrian identity and a belief that their ancient culture can be very modern.

“Diaspora in Bloom” is on display at Art Ark Gallery (1035 S. Sixth St.) in San Jose, CA and open to the public on June 7, 8, and 14 from 6-9 p.m. and June 9 and 15 from 12-4 p.m.

AUAF announces winners of international fine arts competition

February 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos by AUAF

CHICAGO — Winners of the second annual Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation’s (AUAF) fine arts competition were announced on Jan. 27 at a formal ceremony hosted in the organization’s Nineveh Hall.

The theme of this year’s international fine arts arts competition was “Awakening”. Assyrians aged 18 or older were invited to submit original pieces in any two-dimensional medium excluding photography.

Submitted artwork was judged by an independent panel of jurors. Three cash prizes were awarded, including $5,000 for 1st place, $3,000 for 2nd place, and $2,000 for 3rd place.

Assyrian artist Agnes Ishak took home the first place prize. Ishak graduated from the Institute of Technology in Baghdad and currently practices art in New Zealand. Her art spans different abstract art techniques and styles.

“The awakening theme was overwhelming for me,” said Ishak, who attempted three paintings before settling on her final piece. “The winning piece I loved, and it is an accumulation of my belief in the past and present.”

Ishak completed the “Awakening” piece in acrylic for speed so she could complete the many layers and transparent colors on the top layers. She then finished the artwork with oil colors to give the piece depth. She also included a gold leaf for the Assyrian head to reflect Assyrian divinity.

“An art competition is wonderful regardless of winning because we can build a list of artists who can serve and artwork that can reflect who we are and challenge ourselves,” she said.

The winners are as follows:

Honorary Mention (5th Place): Aeluna Nissan (Auckland, New Zealand)
Honorary Mention (4th Place): Nahrin Malki (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Third Place: Maher Minyanish (Chicago, IL)
Second Place: Qais AL-Sindy (El Cajon, CA)
First Place: Agnes Ishak (Auckland, New Zealand)

After every painting, Ishak writes a short text explaining the piece. Here is her text for “Awakening”:

From there and here.
From the core of history.
Symmetrical worlds….
That has no limits.
All mimic a people from that aura that existed before existence.
In the beginning is the “Word”
And at all times.
And the “Word” carved upon every rock in the
A body of pillar rose from the “word “.
“God” blew in it his holy spirit.
Then the “word” became….
Blood, nation, structure and name…
A Light..
An Arrow of light..
Stretched across the atmosphere.
To the core of Heaven and Earth.
To the “word”.
To dive in ourselves
To find what has been embodied in us.
But is in a state of hibernation
Calling for Awakening.
Calling for Stability.

Founded in 1978, AUAF is a non-profit organization that works across social services, humanitarian relief efforts, as well as educational and cultural programs. They work to serve as a bridge between Assyrian traditions across generations in the hopes of building a stronger, more connected community.

For more information about AUAF, visit their website or Facebook page.