Steve Sabella – Photography | Dorothea Schoene | Journal for Palestine Studies

2015

 

Steve Sabella: Photography, 1997–2014 is a survey of the oeuvre of Palestinian artist Steve Sabella. With over 160 illustrations, the book gives a full account of both his photographic practice as well as an insightful characterization of Palestinian art and the troublesome experience of exile and migration. The publication was produced with funding from the prestigious Ellen Auerbach Scholarship of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, which Sabella received in 2008.
 
Recent scholarship as well as curatorial practice have aimed for a globalized language and all-encompassing approach to artistic analysis—an honorable, yet utopian attempt. While there is no such thing as a global terminology—due to multiple factors like the impact of global ideological conflicts, national and regional traditions, the impact and aftermath of colonialism, the dominance of dialects over one another, and the nonexistence of the written word in some languages leading to a different mode of cultural trajection, to name just a few—there is still an important path to take: building bridges by comparing, combining, and juxtaposing theoretical frameworks of artistic practice. The value of such an attempt is clearly revealed in Steve Sabella: Photography, 1997–2014. Two essays offer the reader different, yet complementary readings of Jerusalem-born and Berlin-based artist Steve Sabella.
 
Kamal Boullata's long foreword—a full essay contribution of its own—gives an intimate portrait of both the Palestinian art scene in the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries as well as of the artist himself. Boullata, an internationally renowned artist and scholar, has known Sabella and his work for years. In his introductory words, Boullata goes beyond just an iconographic characterization of Sabella's oeuvre. For the author, the artist's photographs bear witness to a peculiar, unique aspect of Palestinian art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—when Sabella is forced into exile, his art tends to become more and more abstract. When Boullata encountered the photographer's early work in 2002 for the first time, Sabella was still into realistic portrayals of the local landscape, with a good eye for meaningful and symbolically charged details. By 2007, he had created his first abstract series, which he entitled In Exile. Two years after leaving his home city and country, the artist had given his sentiment of estrangement and alienation a powerful visual translation. While there was no focal point in these new series, the clear attempt to structure and compose as if to bring order into a photographic world still remained, which was and is so closely linked to Sabella's own biography.

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