Exploring Society with Sydney-based visual artist Sara Zaher

Vibrantly brazen, Sara Zaher’s digital art is anything but shy. In her outlandish yet brilliantly composed work, the 26-year-old explores the fragile boundary between the personal and the political. In turn, her art playfully pokes fun at society’s obsession with social media, sex, and controversies in politics.

Born in Cairo but raised all over the world, Zaher’s work has been informed by her constant shifts in space and her curiosity in topics such as sociology and psychology. Having lived in Lebanon, London, Manchester, New York and Sydney — all in the past ten years, Saatchi Art has described the artist as one who relentlessly questions where she fits in relative to today’s ever-changing social pendulum. Recently earning her MA in Graphic Design from the University of Arts London, Zaher is currently based in Sydney and working to create art full-time.

Having admired Zaher’s eccentric aesthetic since discovering her work in Plastik magazine, I’m over the moon to be saying this — meet Sara Zaher:

What drew you to digital art?

Apart from its aesthetic appeal, I am drawn to its instantaneous nature — in terms of process and execution — which makes it possible to comment on issues that are relevant. Because I started my visual portfolio on Instagram, I wanted to use a medium that suits the platform. This encouraged my thought process and content creation to be as spontaneous and as free as the medium itself. Instead of spending days overthinking, second guessing, and re-editing a concept — with Instagram I just create, post, and repeat.

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“Overthinking” by Sara Zaher

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Loud, aggressive, and sarcastic.

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What do you wonder about? How do you explore these things in your art?

I think my main concern is to not be disingenuous, unengaging, or boring. Whether through my digital, video, or mixed media work, I aim to critique, entertain, and create dialogue. My biggest fear is comfortable art. Art that is so subjective, so reclusive, that it fails to comment on issues greater than the artist.

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What was it like living in so many different places? I’d love to hear more about your travels. 

It started with my dad’s work when we moved to Sydney around 2005 and my craze with living in different places started from there! I wanted to study in different cities and have that whole experience; it became a  sort of restart button to my life which is always exciting. I think the whole concept of being exposed to different spaces and people gave me a greater perspective on my own identity — it makes you question your immediate environment while absorbing different ones along the way.

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I’ve noticed a recurring theme in your work seems to be poking fun at social media usage — can you tell me more about your commentary on social media?

I think in order to criticize anything with a certain legitimacy you have to be close to it, aware of its ins and outs. And because my work is mostly digitally-based, I am aware of how the relevance of social media can quickly slip into dependence. So, my work isnʼt concerned with condemning social media as much as, like you said, poking fun at human nature and its relationship to contemporary culture — a segment of which happens to be social media.

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“Pick your Poison” by Sara Zaher

One of my favorite pieces of yours is the “Send Nudes” one with the reply of a classical statue. Can you tell me a bit about what inspired this work?

The only time I really recall the term ‘nudeʼ used was in my art history class. It was the sophisticated way to label naked statues. So, I thought it might be interesting to exploit this wordplay to poke fun at this millennial trend.

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How has living in Sydney inspired or informed your work? What is the creative scene like there? 

The creative scene in Sydney is young but slowly growing. Through different organized shows, fairs, and exhibitions; emerging and established artists are given the opportunity to showcase their work. So the exposure and networking advantages are there. Itʼs gradually growing momentum, but the foundation is definitely there.

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Can you tell me a bit about a brand collaboration you’ve worked on that stands out as being an especially interesting experience?

My recent collaboration was with CitizenM boutique hotel in Paris. They contacted me to ask if I would like to showcase my work as part of their permanent collection. Since Iʼm a full-time visual artist my work is usually channelled through conventional platforms such as art fairs and galleries — which unfortunately leaves little time for brand collaboration at the moment.

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Who are some of your favorite Instagram accounts or visual magazines?

Currently, Lights of Soho, Plastik Magazine, and Motel Vibes.

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Sara Zaher in Plastik magazine.

Growing up, who were some of your favorite artists? How have they inspired your work?

James Turrell, Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Jenny Holzer. I especially love the way they use the medium of light; whether natural or artificial, to comment on social, cultural, ethical, and/or political issues. Their work creates an immediate at times shocking response as a way to create dialogue.

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What helps you feel creative?

I usually feel most creative as soon as Iʼm about to sleep at night or first thing in the morning. Thatʼs why I always have a notebook beside me in case an idea comes up. Itʼs usually a disjointed, abstract concept that becomes materialized through further research. But in a broader sense I draw my inspiration from conversations, human observation, and my environment at large. I like to study people and analyze their reactions and interactions with their social, cultural, and political surrounding.

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Going forward, what are some of your goals as an artist in 2017?

Since 2016 was my first year of leaving everything behind and creating art full time, my goal is to broaden my networking and create non-stop! Iʼm continuing a mixed media series called ‘The Lost Generationʼ and working on a new, collaborative series which focuses on traditional and non-traditional mediums to comment on the threshold between religion and consumerism. So keep your eyes peeled!

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“Smoothie” by Sara Zaher

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For more of Zaher’s work, check out her website and Instagram.

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