Exhibition Catalogue | The Empty Quarter Gallery | Dubai

Christa Paula | Euphoria and Beyond

In 2007 Sabella left Jerusalem for further studies abroad. Before his departure, however, he prepared Exit, a disturbing photographic sequence of aged hands, gnarled and discoloured by time to which he refers as his ‘exilic landscapes.’ While for the first time, this artwork specifically makes use of the human body, it also intimates a yearning for re-connection, a release from mental exile. Perhaps it is ironic, or simply human, that he was to achieve this only once he entered the Diaspora, that is, after he physically left home.

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The Electronic Intifada

Sarah Irving | The Harrowed Hands of Palestine

Some of the most viscerally disturbing pictures in the book are to be found in the 2006 sequence titled “Exit.” This is made up of photographs of the backs of many different hands and wrists. All belong to elderly people; the skin is almost translucent, many seem bruised or withered and some are gnarled with arthritis. The title of the work is ambiguous; is the “exit” the extremity of the body, the ends of the fingers? Or the apparently imminent exit from life? But the images are also fascinating; each hand, on examination, implying so many tales of work, touch, love, injury, beauty and pain.


Contemporary Practices Journal

Yasmin El Rashidi | The Journey of Artistic Interrogation and Introspection

The result, Exit (2006), his series of images of hands, speaks for itself of the pain of a landscape of both geography and life afflicted in similar ways to Jerusalem itself, with the ravages of battles that extend beyond the symbolic battlefield of war. Exit was in many ways his attempt to give a visual form to the cumulative experiences of his life, and the result, which makes one cringe, is haunting. These hands were the landscape of his exile. But it was, however, the lowest ebb that was his turn of tide, for from the choice of Exit, perhaps from life, Sabella chose to rebuild his own utopia in the exile of his mind.


What do you mean when you refer to “exilic landscapes” in your Exit hand artwork? I like the expression very much and would like you to comment on it.

When I discovered 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. I found myself walking on harsh foreign lands. My immediate space was shattered and I wanted to convey to the world the nature and form of the new harsh ground I am standing on. This ground or land was the land I was exiled to.

Sara Rossino | Steve Sabella In Exile | Solo Exhibition | Metroquadro Gallery | Turin

One, entitled Exit (2006), is a series of hands—aged, twisted, without any further identity—that paralleled Sabella’s own state of mind and feelings of alienation and estrangement right before his departure from Palestine. The other, Jerusalem in Exile (2005), is a conceptual project in which the artist invited Palestinians from around the world to share their personal views and mental images of Jerusalem. The project gained international attention, leading to its production as a documentary film of the same name in 2007. By pursuing this investigative form of art-making, Sabella found evidence that the city was so fragmented in its own residents’ perception that it could no longer claim a unique, uniform identity—the city itself was drawn into exile.

Dorothea Schoene | Afterimage Stages of Transition. Visualizing Exile in the Work of Steve Sabella

Even when Sabella is not directly referring to Palestine in his work, some critics assume that he is. Take for example, the portraits of a series of hands belonging to different people in Exit. A single hand appears on a black background, the left or right one, usually craggy or mottled with age. Some sport a wedding ring worn for perhaps over sixty years. The fingers are laid flat, open, bunched up, or gnarled like the branches of a great oak tree. One hand displays badly painted fingernails as if the eyes of the owner had difficulty seeing what she was doing. The images are disturbing yet strangely comforting at the same time. They are the delicate bruised hands of survivors. Exit immediately begs the question: whom do these hands belong to – Palestinians, Jews or both. Or does it really matter?

Malu Halasa | Beyond Palestine Layers Exhibition Catalogue Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) Kuwait

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.

Abed Al Kadiri | Layers Exhibition Catalogue Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) Kuwait

Hatje Cantz & Akademie der Künste

Hubertus Von Amelunxen | Steve Sabella – Photography

With the Exit cycle Sabella had metaphorically left his native place, his place of origin—the “unspeakable home,” Samuel Beckett writes in the libretto poem for Morton Feldman’s 1977 opera, Neither. In Exit, the tissue of the hand and the marks of life left by time seem like superimpositions, layers. The hands have reached for life; as bodies they have become places of history, places of memory, there before our eyes in the image, severed from everything. The mark on the skin resembles the faded tattoo evoked by Tarafa Ibn al-‘Abd that has left behind a memory of love. Bodies are overwritten with their history and, like a palimpsest, preserve the traces that are gradually deposited and reappear, depending on the question asked of them and the situation…

The three cycles created between 2004 and 2014 [Exit, Till the End and 38 Days of Re-collection] have an archaeological and anthropological dimension. Just as the hands in Exit resemble an inventory and a museum presentation of human fragments, the two other cycles also resemble careful removals of living circumstances, residues, at particular historically verifiable times.

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A Short Story


The Collection


Layers | Solo Exhibition

Contemporary Art Platform | Kuwait

Download the Catalogue

Layers Solo Exhibition

Contemporary Art Platform | Kuwait


Layers Solo Exhibition | CAP Kuwait

View the independence body of work


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