Get To Know The Sad, Funny & Sexy Work Of This Coming-Of-Age Photographer

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if the most-followed person in the world on Instagram has been accused of copying your work, you must be doing something right. This is the position in which artist and influencer Sarah Bahbah currently finds herself. The 26-year-old, who herself boasts more than 550k followers, recently received over 2,000 notifications from people alerting her to Selena Gomez's new video, which they claimed looked startlingly like her work.
It's hard to deny similarities between the aesthetic of Gomez's video for "Back To You" and Bahbah's work. Palestinian-born, Australian-raised Bahbah is known for the witty, irreverent subtitles on her viral cinematic photography, and even describes herself as a writer first, artist second. Much like Bahbah's work, Gomez's song lyrics are subtitled over dreamlike, retro-style shots of her pining after a mystery man who she claims will always have a place in her heart, despite her better judgment.
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Similarly, Bahbah's work delves into the intimate psyche of millennial women: exploring themes like love, sex, fear of commitment, a playful ambivalence towards life and the paradox of wanting intimacy but craving isolation. The artist is about to make her London solo debut with her latest collection, Splash, a provocative new series of cinematic photographs with typically relatable subtitles. Refinery29 UK spoke to her ahead of the launch.
Splash is on at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery in Mayfair from 8th–22nd June 2018.
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Refinery29 UK: What are the themes you explore in this work?

Sarah Bahbah: "I always maintain a few central themes in my art, regardless of the series. For me it’s important to be honest and express myself transparently, all told through the protagonist in the photos. They act as a conduit for desires and true emotion. My work explores indulgences, intimacy, and cleansing from shame and trauma. These themes have become synonymous with my practice."
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What are your main sources of inspiration?

"First and foremost, I'm motivated by my own experiences, and my ability to be transparent and aware of my inner dialogue and be able to manifest these feelings into my work. In being open with myself and my emotions I hope I'm encouraging others to do the same. That's my second biggest motivation."
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What message do you hope to get across about women and femininity in your work?

"A woman’s femininity is entirely up to her. I think my art comforts women, as we have all had similar experiences and impulses. We have been taught to ignore them but my work is vocalizing them and giving them the validity they deserve. Showing women that being proud of their vulnerabilities and sexual identity is important, and I’m trying to create a world free of guilt and shame."
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What do you want people to take away from your work?

"This is my first solo exhibition in London so I’m excited to share my work with my audience here in person. With all my shows I bring a narrative that's underrepresented in the art world to the table, showing female joy and pleasure, pain, and sorrow in a raw way."
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Which is your favourite photo and why?

"Currently it's the last from my series, I Could Not Protect Her. The subtitles read "Am I Finally Free?" I shared this right after I revealed my article with Teen Vogue on surviving child sexual abuse. I came up with the line soon after I made the commitment to break my own taboo around my traumas growing up. I had a huge sense of liberation knowing I was no longer hiding, and no longer alone. I have alluded in previous series on the desire for freedom, and having a taste of it in 'Feel it. What? Freedom.' But this photo captures my current state, I truly am immersed in liberation, and it feels as though this state of being is more permanent than ever."
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Why do you include subtitles on each photo?

"The subtitles on the photos are access into my inner dialogue, which helps create my story. When you read the subtitles you're actually reading the things I said or wish I said. The words I internalized alone for hours, while processing a sense of grief, pain or vulnerability. I have chosen to share them in my photos as I know in doing so I'm giving myself permission to have a voice, and to free myself of repressed emotion."
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What should someone who's never heard of you know about your work before they see it?

"My work isn’t just subtitles on photos. While each individual piece stands alone and is open to interpretation based on the viewer's experience, when you bring the body of work together, a quasi-narrative is told. A narrative which either breaks taboos of serious issues such as child sexual abuse, or one that encourages viewers to feel a sense of empowerment, knowing they too can express themselves openly and without the limitations that society has placed on us to silence our voice."
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Do you believe Selena Gomez knowingly plagiarised your work?

"I’m flattered that so many have referenced me in Selena’s latest work, and would love to collaborate with her on a special project in the future.

"For years I've been very vocal about the inspiration behind adding subtitles on my work. I spoke about it in a 2015 interview with Nylon magazine, for example. I don't claim to own the use of subtitles on images, but it's definitely a signature of my work that has further established me in this industry.

"My style of work has allowed me to collaborate with music labels, media publications, fashion brands (such as Gucci), and celebrities. All of which were interested in working with me because of my photography style, use of subtitles and raw storytelling. It’s become somewhat of an industry standard that I'm the "go-to" for this type of style.

"My focus right now is bringing light to a very important issue to me – the taboos that need to be broken around child sexual abuse."

Click through for more of Bahbah's photography...
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