As Sarah Bahbah’s cinematic works go on show in London, the artist speaks to AnOther about the intimacy and vulnerability that comes with sharing work online
The Australian artist Sarah Bahbah insists her work is the reflection of her most intimate inner dialogue, but the experience of looking at her hazy, dream-like frames is all but voyeuristic.
“I do allow the viewer to see my deepest thoughts,” she says. “But in the process, I create this space and energy which allows them to feel a sense of vulnerability and relate to what they’re seeing.” Exploring themes of transparency, love, grief and heartbreak, Bahbah’s imagery mixes cinematic photography, written dialogue and a beguiling, whimsical atmosphere of youthful feminine ennui. Her first UK solo exhibition, Splash, held at London’s Lawrence Alkin Gallery documents a playful ambivalence towards life and the paradox of wanting intimacy but craving isolation, a conflict exacerbated in the digital age.
“The most consistent element throughout this series is the inconsistency between wanting to be loved and fearing being loved – that dichotomy between wanting something but not feeling worthy of it once you get it,” the Palestine-born image-maker explains. “Social media can be great for connecting people, but it can also amplify these insecurities and this unprecedented need for validation.” With an ever-growing Instagram following of over 550 thousand, Bahbah is well aware of the platform’s potential for creative exposure, but is determined to not let it dictate her artistic tendencies. “Social media is playing a huge role in developing personality traits which we didn’t really have before. The algorithms are subconsciously shaping the narcissist in all of us, and it’s very important for me to not get consumed by it,” she asserts. “I don’t create based on what others want – the platform is effective in sharing works, but I don’t let it influence the direction I take creatively.”
Bahbah’s signature visual style stands out through her dusty yet saturated palette – one she uses to convey a feeling of nostalgia and timelessness, which more often than not comes accompanied by an element of storytelling. “The idea of using subtitles in my photographic work was inspired by the Tumblr community,” the 26-year-old artist explains. “I kept seeing film stills, and I started to wonder how I could create a story that feels dynamic without there being any motion.” The result is open to interpretation, yet arresting due to the raw honesty of the emotions captured by the photographer and the connection she shares with her subjects, “Whenever I’m in the process of choosing the talent for a series, I make sure to meet them prior, so that I can give them a true understanding of what my story is – if they happen to relate to it, I’m immediately more enticed to work with them,” Bahbah continues. “The energy they’re evoking comes from them understanding the story. I lower my walls and they lower theirs, and there is this mutual sense of vulnerability that comes from us opening up to each other.”
Despite the profound and genuine substance of her work, Bahbah isn’t afraid to occasionally add a veneer of humour and light-heartedness. “My goal isn’t to make satire, but I’m not overly rigid in my practice,” she concludes. “I always channel whatever is going on in my mind, so if I’m feeling a bit sassy, playful and outspoken, I’ll definitely let that shine through without taking myself too seriously – what matters most is staying true to who you are, whatever that involves.”
Splash is on at Lawrence Alkin Gallery until June 22, 2018.