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Unlocking the Past for a Better Future | Steve Sabella at Berloni Gallery | Amy M Haddad

Mar 27, 2014

Confucius once said: “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Steve Sabella, a Berlin-based Palestinian artist, makes this quote come alive. Mr. Sabella’s first UK solo exhibition, Fragments, at the Berloni Gallery in London, England, demonstrates how coming to terms with the past creates a liberating future. Born in Old Jerusalem in 1975, Mr. Sabella lay witness to political, cultural and religious unrest. He describes experiences of alienation and dislocation not only from his home country, but also upon his move to London in 2007. With photography as a primary means of expression, Mr. Sabella uses fragments to give visual form to his alienation, resulting in a new way to see and understand the past.


Of the four series that make up the Fragments installation, the two on the ground floor, In Exile (2008) and Metamorphosis (2012), create a poetic juxtaposition that underscores the artist’s mental journey. In Exile consists of five large prints, each contain repetitive iterations of the same subject from different views: fragments are combined into a collage. For example, one print reveals multiple iterations of windows superimposed with barbed wires; its black and blue colors create an eerie atmosphere. Another consists of black and white images of a small child trying to open and close a window. While the dark colors throughout this series, including blue, black, gray, add to the message of alienation, the window motif is a critical metaphor. Mr. Sabella explains his exile as mental, not physical. Although a window suggests hope, freedom or liberation, the dark colors and the chained or closed windows demonstrate the inability to escape. Indeed, the mental turmoil of In Exile is reconfigured in Metamorphosis.


The parallel juxtaposition of In Exile and Metamorphosis generates a dialogue between Mr. Sabella’s alienation and his attempt to overcome it. He explores this process of change in Metamorphosis, which consists of seven prints, by examining personally charged symbols from multiple angles: concrete walls with exposed brick; barbed wire; among others. In contrast to the In Exile series, only one of these images uses the closed window motif, but its context suggests a different message. Instead of representing a dark mental turmoil, the image depicts a single cactus in a state of loneliness placed behind  a closed window with yellow-colored architecture.



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