It has been four years since her first series sprung into view and Sarah Bahbah’s momentum has not wavered. The combination of her fantastically clever sub-titular captions and the warmth of her photography has created a sensation that no one can ignore.
Her latest series 3eib – meaning shame in Arabic – has thrown caution to the wind and married the two sides of her heritage together, being a Western Arab. For the first time, she has included Arabic subtitles as well as the English, and this is undeniably significant. Bahbah has long received backlash from the more conservative Arab world when it comes to the content and publication of her art, but this series has taken a stand against this criticism. Her work has always been personal, but the sentiments have often been veiled by the famous faces that have previously been in front of the lens, from Noah Centineo to Dylan Sprouse. Bahbah’s emotion is captured in the shot and the captions but until now she has been behind the screen.
This series not only celebrates Bahbah’s voice but also her face and body, as she steps in front of the camera, the first Arab woman to feature in her photographs. She has been considering this momentous move but has never found an Arab woman to agree, so she had to take the challenge on herself. She told Forbes “Instead of just giving my heart and soul to the world, I’d also be giving my body and my face, and I’d never done that before as an artist.”
She has said that “Arab women will understand the risk of my new series. The violence caused in “protection” of our female bodies has only acted as a barrier to our own self exploration. But I have promised myself to live boldly, and with this I want to pave the way for other Arabs to free themselves from the restrictions of our culture. No more hiding. No more shame. This is what I mean when I take the word that has been used as a weapon to make me feel deep shame and own it through my experience. That’s how I’m declaring ‘3eib!’”
The reaction has already been immense, with her nearly one million followers fawning over the glamour and reality of her artwork. Bahbah told us that “it has been a whirlwind of feeling so overwhelmed that I habitually disconnect, and I’m finding a way to give myself permission to allow the abundance of love to pour in. To have the work be celebrated by so many from our culture and around the world has inspired me to push further and go deeper.” The risk has paid off and is certainly creating an impressive ripple through the art world, and this ripple will swell, creating a wave of success and further and even more deserved admiration for Bahbah.