Alpine Alchemy: Inside Zurich’s Creative Undercurrent

The new vanguard of experimental artists and cultural provocateurs taking Switzerland’s most orderly city by storm.

Photographer: Mathilde Agius Writer: Mara Veitch Stylist: Marcelo Alcaide Art Director: Lhaga Koondhor Photo Assistant: Ianne Kenfack Stylist Assistant: Londry Darrell Samuel Talent: Lhaga Koondhor, Shamiran Istifan, Asma Maroof, Yumna Al-Arashi Special Thanks: Karl der Grosse, Jelmoli

It’s no secret that art world cognoscenti flock to Basel, Switzerland’s established “Cultural Capital,” for the summer leg of the blue-chip art circuit, while nightlife revelers opt for the grittier underbellies of Berlin or Paris. But in recent years, both crowds have shifted their attention to another mountainous Swiss city. 

Zurich, the country’s slick and tidy finance hub, is best known, in the words of Swiss-Assyrian artist Shamiran Istifan, for “money, banks and cleanliness,” a reputation that has kept many younger and edgier visitors at bay. “It’s not untrue,” continues the 34-year-old creative, “but there’s more soul in Zurich [than it appears].” 

Left to right: Shamiran wears Mugler corset, Sia Arnika pants, Balenciaga shoes; Yumna wears Ottolinger dress, Rudi Gernreich underpants, vintage boots; Lhaga wears Burberry sweater, skirt and shoes; Asma wears Marni sweater, Sia Arnika skirt, Diesel boots.   

The provincial way of thinking led me to leave my comfort zone.

Lhaga Koondhor

Shamiran wears Prototypes dress, sunglasses and shoes.   
Left to right: Lhaga wears Diesel dress, Gucci boots, Milko Boyarov earrings; Shamiran wears Diesel suit, Marni shoes, Prototypes necklace.   

What I do with my body can be a powerful and class-conscious performance of [reality]. I love to observe how people misread [my appearance] and objectify me, but it’s simply a way of exposing Western moral systems.

Shamiran Istifan

Left to right: Lhaga wears JW Anderson shirt, Rudi Gernreich bodysuit, stylist’s own chaps, Marni shoes; Asma wears Prototypes trench coat, Marni shirt, Telfar joggers, Balenciaga shoes; Yumna wears Sia Arnika dress and shoes; Shamiran wears Rudi Gernreich bodysuit, Sia Arnika pants, Milko Boyarov earrings.   

I suddenly experienced less gatekeeping to institutions that acknowledged the years of work I’d done before.

Lhaga Koondhor

Left to right: Lhaga wears Ximon Lee net dress, Constanca Entrudo dress, Burberry boots; Yumna wears Rudi Gernreich bodysuit, Diesel top, skirt and boots; Shamiran wears Ximon Lee top and pants, Milko Boyarov jewelry, talent’s own shoes.   
Asma wears Prototypes dress, Mugler tights, Diesel shoes.   

Life itself is about learning how to flow like water, and how to give life to other people.

Shamiran Istifan

Left to right: Lhaga wears Burberry sweater and skirt; Asma wears Burberry shirt and skirt.