Art Sets.

The art that made me: Khaled Sabsabi

By the Art Gallery of NSW

In The art that made me, artists discuss works in the Art Gallery of NSW collection that either inspire, influence or simply delight them. This selection by Khaled Sabsabi first appeared in Look – the Gallery’s members magazine.

‘These speak to me because I’m not an art historian,’ says Sydney artist Khaled Sabsabi of his favourite AGNSW collection works. ‘I’m not an academic, or a theorist, or a critic in any way. It’s about finding similarities and inspiration or parallels with your own practice. I can see my work in Mona’s work. I can see my work in Hossein’s work, and Mr Bennett’s work, and Brook’s work. And I hope that they would feel the same way as well.’

Khaled Sabsabi. Photo by Jessica Maurer, courtesy Artspace

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Khaled Sabsabi. Photo by Jessica Maurer, courtesy Artspace

I just find so much inspiration in this and other works by Gordon Bennett. Multiple things: strength, finding voice, context and aesthetically. I think he’s one of the most complete Australian artists of all time. Growing up, even during the civil war and then moving from place to place, I would always be drawing to pass time. In high school I did art and it was around the time of Jean-Michel Basquiat. To be exposed to that was extraordinary, because it was hip hop, pop, alternative… you can see that in Bennett’s work... there are characters there that could be in a street art piece really.

Brook is a good friend. And I love his ability to absorb and to reflect in ways that are unbound by medium, scale or genre. This is quite a simple work – ‘I see you’ – but there is a level of social awareness and commitment and responsibility – in turning back the gaze – that echoes my work. I feel that art should be responsible and engage and ask questions. This is an earlier work from Brook. But again, it’s about the ‘other’. We always think of the other as the ‘other culture’ or the ‘other person’ but it’s wider than that, the other is ‘many’ and not necessarily bound by the colour of skin either.

I’ve known Hossein for quite some time. I’ve always found something in his work that is unique and so different to the contemporary Australian art landscape. His ability to create something out of nothing is quite profound. The fire can represent many things, whether it’s to do with identity or the spirit (I’m sure Hossein has his own philosophical view), but for me it’s also about the mark that is left on the rug. The memory of the fire lives on, both in the mark but also in the photograph. The idea of memory is something that is shared with my practice. What constitutes memory, both for the individual, but also collective memory? What does it mean?

Mona Hatoum is one of the great Arab contemporary artists. Her practice and her diversity of media are extraordinary. Both she and Hossein Valamanesh have re-appropriated traditional imagery, or objects in this case, to come up with a new narrative, and quite an important one: whether it’s the philosophical and the profound in Hossein’s work, or the political and social reality of today depicted here. This rug is a traditional Palestinian design (Hossein has used a Persian rug) and putting the world map onto it represents the catastrophe – or Nakba to Palestinians – of being dispersed all over the world and their circumstances and situation today. It brings the traditional into the contemporary.