Mustafa Sabbagh, in love with imperfection

Italo-Palestinian artist Mustafa Sabbagh was raised between Italy and the Middle East and has embedded in his DNA an instinct for travel and a cosmopolitan spirit. Having moved his first steps as assistant to Richard Avedon, Mustafa's background gained him popularity in the editorial sector and soon his photos began appearing in the glossy pages of the most important magazines in the world. The anti-canon aesthetic he has been able to trace sees skin as the primary testament of each individual's uniqueness.
Halfway between psychological investigation and anthropological study, Mustafa Sabbagh's works - photographic, video, multimedia and installations - find worthy place in some of the most prestigious museums of the world. TV channel Sky Arte HD spoke of him as "one of the eight most significant contemporary Italian artists", while curator and art historian Peter Weiermair ranked him among "the 100 most influential photographers in the world".

Your career has long taken off to the upper echelons of contemporary art. Can you explain how you made the shift from fashion to art?
I wouldn't talk about a shift as much as 'modified intended use', because what changed wasn't the essence of my work, just its main display window. From glossy pages to walls. My fetishism for skin, my love for imperfection as the key to the reading of an individual, how ethics has infected aesthetics, these are all subjects you can find in my fashion editorials from the 90s as much as in my recent art projects: it all depends on who is willing to listen to you, and what their ultimate goal in listening to you is.

Who were your mentors in this transition?
In 2010 publishing house Damiani wanted to publish my first monograph, "About Skin". Since I've always loved Masoch, I pitched the idea of putting together a series of images that had been rejected by fashion magazines for their editorials. When the monograph was published I received the first offers from art galleries to display those same images fashion had rejected in a solo show. I took it as a sign.

After becoming Richard Avedon's assistant, was there a moment in which he understood you were ready to go down your own road? Did you ever have a young talent in your team and if so how did you nurture them?
If someone is my collaborator it means I chose them, and if I chose them it's because I saw in them something of an affinity of intents with my own. This does not mean they have to be Sabbaghian replicants, on the contrary that would be a deterrent. I like revolutionaries, and the only possible revolution in art is with culture, personality and elegance as your weapons. I'm proud to have had among my collaborators Giovanni Troilo: then as now, the best way I know how to give value to not just a colleague, but any individual, is to approach them with the deepest and most respectful honesty.

Which of your art works gave you the most satisfaction and why?
Satisfaction is appeased by the act: in this case by taking a snapshot.

Can you tell us about the project "Contemporary Cluster"?
"Contemporary Cluster" is a new project by Giacomo Guidi, it puts the focus back on the artistic act, not just its vainglorious display. By nature I love tackling challenges; Giacomo invited me to do so by questioning the double-edged sword that is the concept of "limit". In Fluxus by Maciunas, the Total Artist challenges himself, starting from his own vision, to go beyond his limits. As a product of my times, in which consuming is the new form of religion, I decided to converge consumption into culture, with an installation of works taken from the cycle "Onore al Nero" on display in a cathedral of contemporaneity, tending to our wounds with objects of consumption. A distilled perfume that stems from the organic essence of another body, to inject into our own with a syringe. An electric chair in which the leather straps make the distinction between Eros and Thanatos hazy. An orthopedic collar with a cameo attached to it and a ring modeled like an eye patch, to magnify each wound. And a tribute to Pasolini, a cultural wound that never healed, through two works made on the coast of Ostia, in black liquidity. At the end of this project Matteo Basile and Angelo Cricchi will join me in a new investigation that will build on the foundation of Contemporary Cluster: real sharing, to rediscover our humanity, in times of virtual and virtually complacent interactions.

What are you currently working on?
As always, the sublimation of my obsessions.

You were invited to teach at some very successful workshops, so you've had the chance to take a close look at the young talents that are approaching photography today. What do you think scares them the most and what is your advice for them?
I think what scares them the most is what they should most love: hunger. In an age that is gorging on fast-food, it's in the wait that projects find their completion, walking in your mind, longing for culture. And then, what Pasolini called "the value of defeat". It's fundamental to avoid trying to be understood at any cost, because those who have the capacity to see ahead will always stand out from the crowd.

Your photography has been defined in various ways: unsettling, obscene, fascinating... Which critique or comment touched you the most (and why)?
Once, in front of a video-installation I had conceived as a contemporary love letter from Jesus to Judas, a wife dragged her husband away, saying "Let's go. I can't breathe". My thought was "goal reached".

How would you define your style?

Are there any places you're particularly fond of?
Yes, my bed.

Foto Credits: Kim Mariani


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