With Personal Relations opening in London on the 6th December, I wanted to take a look at some work being produced in South London by young artists that relate to the theme of portraiture. One such artist is Gaby Sahhar, a Goldsmiths graduate whose recent films Shard Species and Upgrade Me have explored the limits of the human figure and identity. I caught up with Gaby to ask him some questions about his recent work and the role of portraiture in contemporary culture.
First tell us a bit about your work and the significance of the human figure.
I make performative film and painting often showing in site-specific locations in London. Often my films play on the idea of political exaggerations in London using the idea of role-play which I then use my own body as a tool to communicate ideas. The human figure is a really central part of my practice as it’s really the number one thing that I am making art about. The limitations that society inflicts on humans and how we overcome those mental and physical barriers in regard to the 21st century in London is a key concept in my work.
Where did the human (?) figure that is central to your recent work come from?
The figure I am embodying in my recent performative film Upgrade Me, which was screened in Tesco, is meant to represent a white middle class and finically successful male who is obsessed with technology/personal gadgets, and who works full time in Canary Wharf. I decided to perform as this character in the film in order to commutate ideas directly to the viewer from another voice which was not my own. I wanted to blur the lines between fiction and reality in the film – by using my body as a tool I was able to do so. The film questioned a notion of the role the human plays in reference to labour and being part of a system in London.
How do you relate or differ from the person you play in your films?
I think the characters or “people” that I embody in my film come from a feeling of uncertainty towards them. It’s a feeling of not understanding them; not being able to relate to them in any way or comprehend their decision-making. It’s often the stereotypes of males that I am interested in, as I don’t really feel like a male myself and can’t relate to their actions. It is the characters that prevent society from developing; whose ruthless actions lead to things like gentrification, social cleansing, and disappearance of culture in London that I find fascinating. I can’t relate to these actions myself, so I feel like I have to embody these characters in order to find out more.
Might the work be seen as self-portraiture, or is it something else entirely?
I would definitely say it is self-portraiture in a contemporary context; my work always comes from a personal space within my body and is essentially a reflection on how I feel about London. Whether I like it or not, my identity plays a strong role in my work, especially when I jump from one character to another in my films questioning reality in London.
Finally, how relevant do you think portraiture is to contemporary society?
I think portraiture is and will always be super relevant to art but I do feel like the word “portraiture” is a little prehistoric and has a lot of dated connections about it. I feel like “identity” is the new “portraiture” of today and is super relevant still especially as humans we continue to break the stereotype of what it means to be “human” in reference to race, gender, sexuality and how we live our lives.
I would tend to agree with Gaby on this last point, though we may not be used to naming much of contemporary popular culture portraiture it remains central. Questions of identity and self-representation are paramount to much of the visual culture we encounter daily, one could even say that with social media and the endless selfies we take, self-portraiture has become the most ubiquitous medium. Through his work, Gaby Sahhar is able to explore multiple identities and personas, which are far from his own sense of self, yet with the understanding that they influence and his life as a London citizen.
Just as in my last post, we saw that the miniature portrait has mediated our personal relations throughout history, so too does Gaby’s work explore the relations between humans in a global city through literal embodiment.
You can find out more about Gaby’s work at www.gabysahhar.com
Personal Relations begins its European tour in London and opens at the Cello Factory on 6th December 2016.