Starting his journey with painting, Sarkis expanded his interests to include sculpture and audiovisual installations. He uses a variety of techniques and materials, ranging from photography and video to painting and sculpture; from stained glass to neon lights. In his hands, a neon sign may take the shape of letters, sometimes a poem or a watchword, in other cases an angel or just its wings. Sarkis combines those intellectual traditions of both Western and Eastern cultures that have been historically excluded, addressing issues of time, memory and identity. Many of his works refer to dramatic moments in the history of mankind, such as war. Kriegsschatz–a German term referring to war spoils–is a key concept in his oeuvre, employed as an act of irony. He de-contextualizes and gives new meanings to objects, such as a cut hand or a bullet: These objects are transformed to reflect memory looking towards the future and tied to feelings of triumph, suffering and at times, shame. Sarkis was awarded the Prix de la Peinture at the 1967 Paris Biennial and the Grand Prix National de Sculpture in 1991.
Sarkis (b. 1938), a graduate of Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Istanbul, had his first exhibition at the Istanbul Art Gallery in 1960. He then moved to Paris. His works have been exhibited worldwide in established institutions, such as Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Kunst-und-Austellungshalle, Bonn; Musée du Louvre, Paris; Bode Museum, Berlin; Fondazione MAXXI, Rome; and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Important group exhibitions include When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle Bern (1969); Documenta VI & VII, Kassel (1977 & 1982); and Venice, Sydney, Shanghai, São Paulo, Moscow, and Istanbul Biennials. Among his recent solo and group exhibitions are Mirror, Dirimart, Istanbul (2017); Sarkis avec Paradjanov, Villa Empain-Fondation Boghossian, Brussels (2016); Il Grido, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels (2016); Istanbul: Passion, Joy, Fury, Fondazione MAXXI, Rome (2015); Salt Water, 14th Istanbul Biennial (2016); Respiro, 56th Venice Biennale, Turkish Pavilion (2015); Armenity, 56th Venice Biennale, the Armenian pavilion group exhibition (2015); Sarkis–Cage/Ryoanji Interpretation, Arter, Istanbul (2013). Sarkis lives and works in Paris.