ACF Art Competition Winners

Date: March 4, 2020

Talented Assyrian artists from across the world participate in our annual Art Competition. Each year, Assyrian artists are invited to submit original pieces in any two-dimensional medium, excluding photography. Art submitted to the competition is reviewed by an independent panel of expert jurors to ensure a fair and balanced judgement process. Prizes are awarded to the artists whose work best represent the theme. 






2019 Grand Prize Winner

“Languages and Colors” by Paul Batou

2019 Second Place Winner

“Sun Star” by Atra Givarkes

2019 Third Place Winner

“Noohara” by Agnes Ishak 

2019 Honorable Mention

“Equestrian” by Qais Al-Sindy

2019 Honorable Mention

“Untitled” by Jelbert Karami

2018 Grand Prize Winner

“Untitled” by Agnes Ishak 

2018 Second Place Winner

“Untitled” by Qais Al-Sindy 

2018 Third Place Winner

“Untitled” by Maher Minyanish

2018 Honorable Mention

“Untitled” by Nahrin Malki

2018 Honorable Mention

“Untitled” by Aeluna Nissan 

2017 Grand Prize Winner

“Assyrian Folklore” by John Malk

2017 Second Place Winner

“The End” by Atra Givarkes

2017 Third Place Winner

“Old Woman Portrait” by Maher Minyanish

2017 Honorable Mention

“Freedom” by Noryana Kazzo

2017 Honorable Mention

“Winter Massacre” by Victoria Akhteebo

AUAF Announces Fine Arts Competition for International Assyrian Artists

Date: February 8, 2018

The Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation announces a call for entries for the 2018 AUAF Fine Arts Competition for International Assyrian Artists. The first of its kind, the competition gives Assyrian visual artists worldwide at any stage of their careers the opportunity to promote their work and enhance their careers. This year's theme is Awakening.

Assyrian artists are invited to submit original pieces in any two-dimensional medium, excluding photography. Art submitted to the competition will be reviewed by an independent panel of expert jurors to ensure a fair and balanced judgement process. Prizes will be awarded to the artists whose work best represent the theme:

  • 1st Place—$5,000
  • 2nd Place—$3,000
  • 3rd Place—$2,000

Last year’s competition was limited to Assyrian artists based in the United States. Sixteen talented artists from across the country entered a total of thirty-nine pieces in the AUAF’s first-ever art competition. Click here to see the winners of the 2017 AUAF Art Competition.

This year’s competition is open to Assyrians around the world. Submission deadline is August 15, 2018 at 11:59pm. There’s no charge to enter. Participants must be 18 years of age or older. Learn more about the competition and how to enter.

The AUAF sponsors this competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the Assyrian community.

AUAF Awards Scholarship to Rising Assyrian Artist

Date: December 13, 2017

Through community grants and scholarships, the AUAF helps Assyrian students across the globe gain the support and education they need to shape our community’s future. We were proud to award a $5,000 scholarship to Nenous Thabet as he pursues artistic studies in Iraq.

Nenous is a young artist living in Bakhdida, a town in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. In August 2014, his family was forced to flee their hometown as ISIS invaded the region, and spent three years living in Ankawa. Nenous and his father, Thabet Mikhael, are both artists and were deeply impacted by the footage that emerged showing the terrorist group’s destruction of Assyrian heritage sites. While most felt powerless, Nenous decided there was only one thing he could do: Rebuild.

They waged a war on art and culture, so I decided to fight them with art.

Following the liberation of the Nineveh Plain in early 2016, Nenous’s family returned home to find it in ruins: Homes were burnt from the inside out, buildings reduced to rubble, churches blackened by fire. Worst of all, the town was empty. A vibrant city had become a ghost town.

Nearly a year later, life is slowly returning to the town. Nenous and his father led a campaign to eliminate ISIS graffiti in various towns of the Nineveh Plain, leading a team of artists who together painted colorful murals over hateful words. Families have moved back, shops have reopened, and school is in session—but there’s a long, long way to go.

Nenous remains committed to his goal, and continues to recreate iconic pieces. He’s garnered international attention for his work, even landing a feature on CNN. He says his goal is to rebuild Nineveh. “Everyone is born with a purpose. I think this is mine,” he says.

Check out our full interview with Nenous below.

AUAF Awards $5,000 Scholarship to Artist Nenous Thabet

Through community grants and scholarships, the AUAF supports Assyrian students across the globe gain the support and education they need to help shape our community's future. We were proud to award a $5,000 scholarship to Nenous Thabet as he pursues artistic studies in Iraq. Nenous is a young artist living in Bakhdida, a town in Iraq's Nineveh Plain. His hometown was destroyed by ISIS, but his family has since returned and has vowed to rebuild.

Posted by Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 AUAF Art Competition Results

Date: December 4, 2017

Sixteen talented Assyrian artists from across the United States entered a total of thirty-nine pieces in the AUAF’s first annual art competition. Judging for the competition was conducted by Chicago-area artists Tim Anderson, Evelina Mayner, and Hannah Hummel. Our panel was asked to consider and score each piece individually in a series of rounds. Only five artworks could be chosen from the thirty-nine entries as finalists. The judges remarked on the exceptional quality of the work and the difficult task of choosing only five pieces.

The process of narrowing down our applicant pool was a challenging one for our judges, as it was composed of so many impressive and diverse pieces. Ultimately, five pieces were selected to advance to the final round. Congratulations to the winners of the AUAF’s 2017 Art Competition! These exceptional artworks are now on display in the Studio Gallery.


Grand Prize Winner

“Assyrian Folklore” by John Malk

Medium: Etching and aquatint
Dimensions: 15.5″ x 10.5″
Awarded $3,000 grand prize 

A portrait of an Assyrian woman dressed in traditional Assyrian folk costume. The piece captures the spirit of Assyrian culture and heritage.

John Malk is an Assyrian artist known for his realistic sketches and portraits. Using graphite pencils and charcoal, Malk has been drawing powerful pieces for years. A native to Syria, Malk’s work is inspired by people from ancient Assyria to modern Syria. He studied art in Damascus, later continuing his education in Poland. In 1992, he resettled in Chicago where continues to create magnificent pieces, capturing the Assyrian spirit in many of his works. His attention to detail brings his portraits to life. Malk believes that art is one of the most effective ways to both document Assyrian history and share Assyrian heritage with the world.  

Second Place Winner

“The End” by Atra Givarkes

Medium: Gold leaf, oil on canvas
Dimensions: 30″ x 30″
Awarded $2,000 prize 

The first painting in Givarkes’s Assyrian Calligraphy series, the piece was inspired by the Assyrian lotus flower design and combines the Assyrian letter tav with the flower. Givarkes’s unique approach to calligraphy incorporated vibrant colors, straying from the sole use of black in traditional calligraphic works.

Born in Urmia, Atra Givarkes is currently based in California. After graduating from high school, Atra attended Tabriz Azad University in Iran, studying graphic design. One year into her education, she relocated to the United States and continued her studies at Modesto Junior College, completing an Associate Degree in Fine Arts. She then transferred to the University of California San Diego, obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Visual Arts in 2016. While attending college, she worked as a volunteer curator for the university’s art gallery, and participated in many student exhibitions. Her pieces and drawings are comprised of calligraphic compositions that reflect both her memories and her identity as an Assyrian. 

Third Place Winner

“Old Woman Portrait” by Maher Minyanish

Medium: Charcoal on paper
Dimensions: 14″ x 18″
Awarded $1,000 prize

A portrait of an old Assyrian woman created using charcoal art. The piece was drawn from a photograph of an elderly woman taken by the artist. It captures the pain and resilience that defines the Assyrian soul.

Born in Mosul, Iraq, Maher Minyanish is an Assyrian artist working in the Chicago area. He resettled in the United States in 2009. Though he left his homeland behind due to war, he carried his love and passion for his heritage with him. Minyanish feels obligated to create pieces that represent Assyrian history and heritage—a common theme in much of his work. A self-taught artist, Minyanish discovered his passion for art as a child and draws inspiration from the changing world around him. He is inspired by human experiences and stories, and is known for his portrait work. (Update: Noor’s winning piece was featured on his subsequent appearance on ABC’s Windy City Live. Check it out here!)

Honorable Mention

“Freedom” by Noryana Kazzo

Medium: Charcoal pencil on paper
Dimensions: 22″ x 15″

The young boy depicted behind the fence represents all Assyrian children in Iraq who live under oppression and have to overcome barriers daily and their desire to live freely as equal citizens, with the freedom and opportunities afforded to children in other parts of the world.

Noryana Kazzo is a nineteen year-old artist from Iraq. Her family fled persecution in Iraq, resettling in Syria, where she spent her childhood. She discovered her love for art at the age of ten. She is a self-taught artist, who credits her father as one of her teachers. She did not have the opportunity to formally study art in Syria. After fleeing the war in Syria, Noryana and her family resettled in the United States, where she would take her very first art class. She continues to evolve as an artist, and hopes to study art after graduating from high school this spring. 

Honorable Mention

“Winter Massacre” by Victoria Akhteebo

Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 11″ x 14″

This piece represents the horrors of gang violence in Chicago, depicting the residual blood left from the violence that plagued spring, summer, and fall in the wintertime. The white and grey rectangles symbolize rival gangs. The different color lines represent the arteries of innocent victims, each with their own story.

Victoria Akhteebo is a Chicago-based artist who began her artistic journey at the age of eight drawing jewelry and fashion designs. She later developed an interest in graffiti art, and studied the craft independently, initially by recreating popular graffiti pieces for practice until she developed her own personal style. Akhteebo hopes her artwork will push viewers out of their comfort zone, not only through her style of work, but by depicting subjects that are often considered controversial. Her work presents a critical view of life and prompts the viewer to question their own perspective on some of society’s toughest questions.

AUAF at the first-ever Assyrian Food Festival in Chicago

Date: August 30, 2017

We had a blast this weekend taking part in the first-ever Assyrian Food Festival, presented by the Assyrian Church of the East. The festival took place in Morton Grove, a suburb of Chicago, and was attended by thousands of local residents, including local officials. From delicious dishes to traditional dance, the weekend was a beautiful celebration of the Assyrian culture.

AUAF was proud to participate in the event as a sponsor. Our Fine Arts Program also hosted a fun activity in the Kids Zone, giving hundreds of children the opportunity to paint their very own Gilgamesh sculpture. Gilgamesh was the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh a poem from ancient Assyria that is considered the first great work of literature.

Festival co-chair Julie Kako expressed her thanks to AUAF, “Our committee would like to thank AUAF for your support. The kids had a blast painting.” Parents also appreciated the activity. Lina Eshaya, whose daughter participated, said the following, “Thank you so much for bringing out this fabulous art activity for the kids!”

Check out our full photo album here.

Our Fine Arts Assistant Director Rabel Betshmuel was very impressed by some of the artwork. At AUAF, one of our goals is to identify Assyrian Americans with exceptional talents at an early age, and enable them to engage their talents to become effective cultural leaders. We strive to empower Assyrian students and provide them with the tools they need to excel in pursuing artistic studies and careers. Our programs are free for Assyrian students. Click to learn more and register. We’re excited to announce new art classes starting this fall. Stay tuned!

AUAF Honors Two Past Board Presidents

Date: May 9, 2017

This past Sunday, we here at AUAF were proud to open our doors and share with the community our revitalized community center. But as we move forward with our new vision, we felt it was appropriate to pay tribute to those who were instrumental to the foundation and growth of AUAF. Our Fine Arts Department led an initiative to honor two past Board Presidents of the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation: The Late Helen James Schwarten and The Honorable Homer Ashurian. 

We were proud to unveil two dedicated portraits recognizing both of these individuals in the presence of their families and friends.

Honoring Helen James Schwarten

Helen James Schwarten fled Iran with her mother and two siblings during the Assyrian Genocide in 1917. She later found herself resettling in America, where she would slowly rebuild her life. Though she would become incredibly wealthy, Helen never forgot her roots. A philanthropist devoted to her community, she spent much of her life working with Assyrian immigrants and students.

Her motivation to help fellow immigrants stemmed from her own experience as well as her deep religious faith. She aimed to assist those in the community who had been persecuted and were now struggling to start a new life. For example, she generously aided many Assyrians struggling to make ends meet by paying their bills, and would take new immigrants around Chicago to get to know the city.

Helen became an integral part of the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, supporting the creation of the Ashurbanipal Library and initiating various educational programs, including AUAF’s scholarship fund.

She served as AUAF’s president for many years, lending both her time and financial support to ensure its success, leaving a lasting impact on the organization and a generation of Assyrians. She passed away in 1999.

Honoring Homer Ashurian

The late Homer Ashurian was born and raised in Urmia, Iran. He graduated from the University of Tehran with Masters Degrees in Archaeology and Assyriology. In 1975, Homer Ashurian was elected to serve as a Member in the Iranian Parliament, giving a voice to the Assyrian people. He served honorably for four years.

He ultimately found himself resettling in the United States with his wife, Suzy, and his two sons. Though far from home, distance did little to stop his efforts to secure a better future for his people, both in the homeland and in the diaspora. He joined the AUAF Board of Directors in 1987. Those who knew and worked with him here recall his total commitment to the organization’s mission and to the community. Ashurian dedicated his broad intellect and his boundless energy to a singular cause: Assyrians.

He had a forceful commitment to improving the lives of Assyrians in the homeland, as well as helping Assyrians in the United States through the challenges they faced with resettlement. A central part of AUAF for nearly thirty years, he retired in 2015. Though he passed away last year, his legacy lives on–both in our mission at the AUAF, and in the hearts of all the people who had the pleasure of working with him.

The Artists

The Portrait of Helen James Schwarten was painted by Detroit-based Assyrian artist Reni Stephan. The Portrait of Homer Ashurian was sketched with charcoal by Chicago-based Assyrian artist John Malk. Both paintings are now on display in our facility. See more of Stephan and Malk’s works in our Studio Gallery through the end of June.

How-to: Our Adorable Thanksgiving Shoot

Date: November 30, 2016

Another year, another Thanksgiving. Whether your family served turkey, or went the traditional Assyrian route—serving dolma and the likes instead—you’re probably all out of leftovers, and chances are you’ve already got your tree up. But before we fully shift gears into Christmas mode, we want to share with you our adorable Thanksgiving photo shoot. If you haven’t seen the photos yet, check out our post. The children you see pictured are students of our music and art programs.

The results were adorable, and we got such great feedback from parents. Our photo booth was so effortless, we decided we’d share a quick how-to. This is a simple and fun way to capture memories at your next family event or birthday party.


  • Camera (your iPhone camera will do)
  • Tri-fold board (any color, but we went with orange for Thanksgiving)
  • Small chalkboard
  • Chalk
  • Chalk eraser (napkins work fine)
  • Tape (or glue)
  • Scissors
  • Glue gun (optional)
  • Prop printouts (optional)
  • Bamboo skewers (optional)


  1. The tri-fold board will serve as your backdrop. If you’d like to include any text/images, it’s easy to do. Given that ours was a Thanksgiving shoot, we went with the text, “I am thankful for.” You can easily swap the text for a different phrase—”Happy Birthday Sargon!” for example. We printed the text, rolled up bits of tape and stuck them on the back of the letters to attach them to the board. You can choose to glue instead, but taping allows you to remove the letters should you wish to reuse the board. Also, using tape allows you flexibility if you realize you need to reposition the letters. Tri-fold boards are available anywhere that school supplies are sold, but if you’d like a specific color, chances are Michael’s or a Constructive Playthings Store will have a wider variety.
  2. We set up our tri-fold board on a table and had the kids sit in front of it. Each child was asked what they’re thankful for, and we jotted it down on the chalkboard for them. They then simply posed with the chalkboard as we snapped some photos. You don’t need to be a professional to get a great shot. We bought our chalkboard from Michael’s for $5, but there are always tons in the Target dollar section.
  3. In addition the chalkboard message, we decided to incorporate photo booth props. You can find tons of options on Etsy or at your local Party City for sale, but if you’ve got the time and the soda, you can easily make them yourself. We spent some time googling clip art images (for our Thanksgiving shoot, we went with: turkey, pumpkin, pie, pilgrim hat, fall leaf, corn, ties, a bow-tie/bow, and mustaches—which were hands down the most popular), copied and pasted them into a Word document, and hit print. Our only recommendation here is that you try to find clip art that are similar in theme/style. We printed our images on card-stock, and then laminated them for good measure. Using a glue gun, attach one bamboo skewer to each prop to act as the holder. If you don’t have a glue gun handy, several strips of tape should do the job.


  • Don’t worry about getting the perfect shot. You can always crop later.