27 year-old French-Lebanese photographer Sabyl Ghoussoub shares some background to Sweet Jesus, a sequence of two photographs that reinterpret Leonardo Da Vinci‘s well-known painting Last Supper. The diptych was created by Sabyl in light of the terrorist attacks that had place in Beirut and Paris last November.
Hello Sabyl, thank you for this interview. What are your main interests as a photographer?
My first interest is to survive, creation being my last defensive wall against my own madness and violence. I always start taking photos, writing or wanting to film the moment before falling in the void. My second interest is to seize my own territory, just like photography in the United States has shaped the American identity throughout its history. From Paris to Beirut, passing by Teheran or also a photo studio, I try to build a piece of the Middle-East and through it, my identity.
How did you get the idea of restaging the Last Supper with a group of terrorists?
Last 12 November, Beirut was bleeding; on the next day, Paris bled too. It was too much for me to take. I had the impression of being attacked from all sides. I still remember the days that followed the Paris massacres – everyone was wordless and inactive, but me, I was full of energy. I couldn’t stop walking in the streets of Paris, I needed to understand, to see people reflect and meditate, to start living again. For two days, I wondered what to do, then the idea for this diptych came to my mind on the 15th. By the 20th, the image was on my computer. It was a childish reaction, as is often the case in my work. Instead of insulting the perpetrators of the attacks, I was making a photo.
What is the function of the second image, where the terrorists are gone?
The function of the second image is quite broad. It could be interpreted in different ways, which is what interests me. On one hand, it emphasizes the photograph with the terrorists; on the other, it shows the moment after, the meal waiting for the next people. It represents a farewell supper, that warm moment we live before someone goes away.
What message are you trying to send with this work, and why did you choose Doux Jésus (Sweet Jesus) as a title?
This diptych should surprise the viewer and lead him to ask himself questions, not provoke him. We also find there the idea that every extremism, whatever it is, can and has already arrived to such horrors. Why “Sweet Jesus” as a title for the photography with the characters? Because the night of the Charlie Hebdo attack, I was at the Place de la République with my uncle and our phones were invaded with messages. We were receiving long monologues about the horrific act that had happened and then, all of a sudden, he received a message of only two words: “Sweet Jesus”. This expression is generally used to indicate astonishment, fear, shock, and it seemed as the only appropriate way to describe the situation. Looking at the photograph, those two words immediately came to my mind.
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