Mustafa Sabbagh - Liquid Memories22/05/2012
Mustafa Sabbagh is an unusual amalgamation of elements. He is Jordanian born, but Italian based, with time spent in London as the late Richard Avedon’s assistant. Sabbagh originally studied architecture but then pursued a career as a photographer. In his latest exhibition, Saggagh fuses traditional forms of imagery with the modern, the decorous with strange, the real with the reflection of the real.
Sabbagh’s imagery is fresh and innovative, and yet his most recent exhibition is perfectly at home in its current historic setting, alongside works of the nineteenth century belle époque master, Giovanni Boldini. Boldini, considered a master of portraiture, came to prominence in London and then Paris, where he became the artist of choice for high-society of the late 19th century. Sixteen of Sabbagh’s photographs, as well as two installations, have taken up residence in the Palazzo Massari, the permanent home to many of Boldini’s most famous masterpieces.
Sabbagh’s work draws influence from Boldini’s dramatic paintings of aristocracy, as well as the historic building that houses them. He has created a large photographic image of one of Boldini’s portraits and the surrounding wall space on which it sits. The photograph has been printed on glass, and then shattered. This installation lies on the ground in front of Boldini’s work, a reflection of the original and the space it occupies. Sabbagh is both paying homage to tradition, while signifying a break with it.
The second installation piece is a photographic image of a window in the Palazzo Massari, comprised of two large-format, backlit prints. The image sits over the very window from which the image was taken, engaging with the internal and external boundaries of the historic building.
A sense of the sinister informs Sabbagh’s portraits, his sitters appear vulnerable, passive in the face of the viewer’s judgements, reminiscent of much of today’s media imagery. Sabbagh connects the age-old art of portraiture to today’s image-hungry climate; the artist is communicating with the sacred aspects of tradition and history, memories of the past and the way in which a portrait freezes it’s subject, and it’s creator, in time. He’s playing with and blurring historical boundaries.
The staid images of a previous century that can seem far removed from the now, take on a new context next to these shadowy photographs. Sabbagh is pulling portraiture into the 21st century.
May, 20th 2012 – September 30th 2012 Museo Giovanni Boldini – Corso Porta Mare, 9 – 44121 Ferrara
Clementine Widdowson - de Pressigny