With nearly one million followers on Instagram, Palestinian-Australian photographer, Sarah Bahbah, has perhaps one of the most instantly-recognisable aesthetics on the internet today. Inspired by art-house films, her cinematic frames are always accompanied by subtitles — one liners that she’s often explained come before the photograph, not the other way around — that speak to her inner-most thoughts, fears and ponderings. Until this week, however, all her photos have featured models, acting as vessels for the artist’s internal dialogue. With the release of 3eib! — comprised of 32 self portraits and her iconic subtitles — Bahbah explores what it means to be both an Arab and Western woman, honestly exposing her vulnerability and reflecting on her past traumas.
“My new series 3eib! (Shame On Me!) is a marker of everything I’ve been through and an assertion of everything I stand for,” said Bahbah in her artistic statement that accompanied the first few photos of the series on her Instagram account. “This series was a challenge to myself to unravel my harshest beliefs I’ve held onto about my mind and body, and to give myself permission to be the public face of my own art. In my previous work, I unknowingly diluted my message by telling my story through non-Arab talents. My inner dialogue expressed in my art did not pose the same risk or weight when spoken by non-Arabs. I portrayed myself through other talent because I was not ready to completely stand up against my standards of beauty corrupted by the West, or to the stigma of shame in my Arab culture. In a way, I was still living submissively and obediently to society.”
A victim of sexual abuse as a minor, and having gone through a difficult time balancing Arab traditions at home and a Western cultural education at school, Bahbah says her “‘external othering’ was coupled by an intimate knowing of discomfort and shame. The same violent men who sexualised me, ironically denounced affection and sexuality from our culture… I grew up rejected by the White world and too “un-pure” (sic) for the Arab society.” The new series marks the first time Bahbah has included Arabic subtitles alongside her iconic English utterances.
Speaking to Forbes, Bahbah explains that she chose the ubiquitous word 3eib as the title of this project as it is used abundantly across the Arab world, often to control women’s behaviour or appearance.
“It was the automatic word used to silence us. So, the reason I’ve called this series ‘3eib’ is to claim my power back. There is going to be critical lashing from the Arab world — it’s almost guaranteed — and this is the weapon they’re going to use against me, so I thought I might as well own it.
Check out more of Bahbah's work here.