In an interview with Sara Rossino in 2010, Steve Sabella spoke about his series Exit (2006) and said, “When I discovered that my city of birth disappeared and went into exile, I was lost or entrapped in my immediate space -my city. I started perceiving the world in a very harsh way. I had nowhere to go and I was on the edge of total physical and mental collapse.” Fast forward to a few weeks ago during the height of the war on Gaza. Steve and I were extremely busy coordinating Layers, his first exhibition at CAP Kuwait, which we had begun planning over two years ago to coincide with the release of his monograph. In an email Steve wrote, “The Israeli war on Gaza has pushed me to my limits.”
Steve Sabella has always lived in a very fragile world that could collapse at any moment. The deep humanity in his work was born from a sense of accountability towards the land he has left. In the past he would try to escape the captivity of his memory and experiences, only to end up back where he started, a cycle that was mirrored in the form of his early collages. But I envisioned him as a warrior in a battlefield, fighting for a cause others no longer felt the strength to fight. And he remained resilient, a strong believer in the ability of art to defend, communicate and be the catalyst for change. Instead of weapons he wields a camera and computer to reconstruct the outside world according to his own aesthetic values and philosophical beliefs.
Three years ago he told me, “If you want to understand my work you have to understand me first, delve into my psychological composition. My work is significantly related to the course of my life and mental composition.” So, in order to get acquainted, I familiarized myself with his persona. I have come to enjoy the exciting sense of narrative he exercises while recalling life events and his relationships with the people and objects that surround him.
Steve’s experiences and his evolving perception of the power of images comes through in Layers. It begins with a departure. In Exit (2006) people’s hands become human maps, the tissue of their skin delineating their journeys. These people built their civilization's landmarks with these hands, in a country with a clear identity and significant cultural and historical heritage. These landmarks became the veins that Steve dissects with his camera, metaphors for the streets that he once walked through. Whether they have departed or are still alive, these people, regardless where they come from, have their Palestinian identities woven into their skin.
In Metamorphosis (2012), Steve is torn between two very different worlds: an inner world of inspired isolation and an external one that provides a premonition of hope. His collages present dismantled forms that become distinctly separate from their original contexts. The identifiable elements are often polarizing barbed wire against the blue sky; cactus flowers and closed windows; steel bars and transcendent light. Do these works embody a new transitional stage in his life? Are they manifestations or echoes of life lived among contradictions that so many Palestinians relate to, as he wrote in a previous statement on the series? Metamorphosis contrasts with his series In Exile, where he masterfully constructs a visual architecture with constantly shifting facades that transform the concrete to organic, depicting a surreal world, and not without hallucinations. Steve has left the door wide open for the viewer to interpret the nature and symbolism of these and his other works of art, and they might find explanations that are far from his original intentions.