To introduce Steve Sabella as definitively Palestinian or definitively Arab would be to overlook this exceptional artist’s life quest of questioning one’s given identity, what identity is in essence, its relationship to the image, and how one can transform and integrate a given identity into a state of active self-construction. Steve Sabella’s work represents an individual consciousness seeking to understand its meaning and role in the world, and to take charge of the image, where our understanding of the world perhaps resides.
Steve Sabella, born in Jerusalem in 1975, is a Berlin-based artist who uses photography and photographic installation as his principle modes of expression. He has won several awards and was one of the commissioned artists for the inauguration of MATHAF Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. Sabella’s artworks have been collected by the British Museum in London and others and by leading collectors around the world. He has held international shows in the Middle East, Europe and the US.
Sabella’s project “In Exile” explored the mental image that Palestinians hold of Jerusalem and has gained international attention, leading to its production into a documentary film. Consequently, Sabella has been using photo collage as a visual form for the state of mind that results from living in 'mental exile’ and the transcendence of this state towards Independence (2013). As he writes, “the hard work was finding how to allow for a new transformation, while accepting that my DNA will always stay the same.”
For 38 Days of Re-Collection (2014) Sabella lived in a Palestinian home occupied by Israelis since 1948. Unsettled, he tried to make sense of the space by photographing it thoroughly, then collected fragments of paint that were peeling off the walls of the home he was born in and other houses in the old city of Jerusalem. He painted light sensitive black-and-white photo emulsion on the fragments, and then printed the photographs he had taken on them. Also in 2014, Steve Sabella presented his latest work at his exhibition “Fragments” at London’s Berloni Gallery from March 7 to May 10.
Sabella is one of those rare artists who question not only the world but also themselves. The making of his artistic images is linked to the evolution of his self-image. Throughout his work, he has been on a quest to deconstruct and defy labels, to rebuild his identity, taking the risk of feeling like a stranger to oneself, uprooting himself only to later grow roots all over the world. Is cultural fragmentation a state of permanent exile, or is it an opportunity to recreate one’s mental surroundings – and recreate reality itself? As Sabella writes, “I find myself exploring the genealogy of the image and asking what existed first: the image or the world?”