SETTLEMENT | Six Israelis & One Palestinian


Told, Untold, Retold”, brings together work by 23 contemporary artists. Among the most interesting are Jerusalem-born Steve Sabella’s photographs of Israeli and Palestinian men hardly distinguishable in their boxer shorts and the paintings on paper by Marwan Sahmarani, a Lebanese painter who was inspired by a famous 16th-century engraving by Albrecht Dürer.

Steve Sabella’s installation, “Settlement” (2010), has six Israelis opposite one Palestinian, all seven clad in underwear, facing each other with a neutral stare. Their eyes also meet the gaze of the viewer, making him a discomfited witness.

Convincing six Israelis to strip for him and stand in their underwear, Sabella creates an artwork that is uncommon in the region as it shifts from ubiquitous views of Nostalgia’. Instead, it engages the viewer in a strong visual debate and thought.

Dorothea Schoene | Afterimage | The Journal of Media Arts & Culture

Stages of Transition | Visualizing Exile in the Work of Steve Sabella

In a 2009 commission for the opening of the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, the artist surprised viewers with an exceptional piece. The exhibition featured works of twenty- three contemporary artists with roots in the Middle East, who each proposed a different narrative of identity and history… Sabella’s contribution was again one of a self-investigative portrayal. He installed six large photographs of Israeli citizens on one wall, and a single photograph of himself centered on the opposite wall. The subjects are unarmed, half naked—yet in self-confident poses.

While again putting himself in the midst of the work’s narrative, this time he doesn’t operate with symbolic or abstract forms. Showing himself as outnumbered by Israelis directly critiques the political situation in Palestine, and showing all figures undressed down to their boxer shorts simultaneously points to the vulnerability of both sides. The installation forced visitors to walk between the two opposing walls, placing the viewer in the midst of the piece, as if taking part in an actual event. What links this work back to Sabella’s other series is again the importance of the title: “Settlement—Six Israelis & One Palestinian”.

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Canvas Magazine | Dubai

Exodus and Back | Myrna Ayad

In the same year, Sabella was commissioned to create a work for one of Doha’s mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art’s opening shows – the fantastic Told/Untold/Retold. Settlement: Six Israelis and One Palestinian, (now acquired by Mathaf) sought to address the basics: by getting six Israelis and himself to strip down to their underwear with Sabella on one wall and the others facing him, his provocative installation addresses the need to go back to the roots of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. There are a number of facets to this work – the ratio of six israelis to one Palestinian reflects the demographics of israel and, as Sabella explains, has many connotations.


It signals, for example,“very charged numbers in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and how the Israelis are always threatened by the ‘one’ Palestinian who might set things off.” There is the idea of a collective that shapes the region, in which nations are treated collectively rather than taking into account the individuality of people. The installation thereby creates a visual unresolved tension, especially as there is no indication of who is winning – the one or the many. “The spectator who stands in the middle of the installation cannot see both sides simultaneously and must make a critical choice,” explains Sabella.

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Steve Sabella – Photography 1997-2014 | Hatje Cantz & Akademie der Künste

Hubertus von Amelunxen

The semi-nakedness of the men and their prescribed position in front of a concrete wall in the middle of the image, as if for execution, reflect the helplessness on both sides. Naked except for their boxer shorts, they expose themselves to the camera’s shutter, their gaze directed at the lens, their arms hanging by their sides—no previous verdict, no previous execution. Yet the conflict is configured in the spatial confrontation: six Israelis hang close together on one side of the museum, one Palestinian, Steve Sabella himself, on the opposite side…

 The six Israelis and one Palestinian could be standing at that almost eight-meter-high wall; it is behind them, they do not see it. The wall is the preclusion of negotiation and rapprochement, and to this day is a culmination of the settlement policy, the direction of which was formulated long before the foundation of the state of Israel.

Find out more about the monograph

“Settlement: Six Israelis and One Palestinian,” by contrast, is more confrontational and combative in its message. On one side of a gallery stand six men wearing only their underwear, their backs to a concrete wall very much like the one built by Israel in the occupied West Bank. On the other side stands a lone man in similar clothing and against a similar setting.

They all look similar — in a state of undress, there is little to differentiate one from another. What is their relationship to the wall? To be confined by it? Protected by it? To guard it? What rights does each one have, and how and why might such similar figures be so categorically divided?

The Harrowed Hands of Palestine Sarah Irving | Electronic Intifada

The title invites the viewer to question the works: Independence as a state of being; are these figures independent, or do they lean on one another? Can one be both independent and dependent? This recalls Sabella’s Settlement: Six Israelis and One Palestinian (2008–10), exhibited at the inaugural Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art exhibition Told / Untold / Retold (2010), where the image of six standing Israeli men face the sole image of Sabella, demonstrating how the images and sets of figures can be interpreted as simultaneously oppositional and interdependent.

Independence Exhibition Catalogue, Meem Gallery, Dubai Meagan Kelly Horsman

Born in Jerusalem, Steve Sabella is a photographer whose portfolio depicts the challenges and struggles of the human condition in familiar yet abstract forms. As a Palestinian visual artist who has lived both under occupation and in exile, Sabella’s work brings into focus a sharp and sometimes uncomfortable view of contemporary life in the 21st century in a way that begs reflection by the viewer.

 Throughout the book, Sabella’s images take us from one world to another. His fresh, early work leads to the pivotal series “Six Israelis and One Palestinian” and “Metamorphosis”, ending with the painterly, rich series “38 days of re-collection” and “Sinopia”. Sabella’s monograph stands as one of the very few records for those interested in learning more about contemporary art and artists from the Middle East to peruse and study.

Lisa Pollman Art Radar

Sabella creates an experience that questions the viewer, prodding thought on the very nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and on the reality of the collective versus the individual. Raising questions about the nature of how our minds work in the face of conflict, and how paranoia is induced and fear of the other evoked, through this work Sabella urges viewers to step back and reconsiders the single self: The self, separate from the battlefield of stereotypes and visual myth.

Yasmin El Rashidi Contemporary Practices Art Journal

His latest project called Settlement – Six Israelis & One Palestinian. The title itself is problematic, and the problem grows when the viewer finds himself in the middle of a narrow gap between two walls, surrounded by the image of two concrete walls, and in front of them the life size pictures of six men (on one side) and another (on the other side), all wearing just underpants. The title informs us about their identity that would obviously be left unknown, since all the superstructures, and the accessories that give shape to the world displaying one’s identity, have been swept away…

 With his work Sabella has been able to go beyond every cliché; as he himself says, he got rid of all the “nostalgic layers that gave shape to many works realized in Israel and Palestine”, in order to push himself on to a different border; not an emotional border, but a border of consciousness. “… We are confronting each other’s‘Otherness’—face-to-face, and right to the core. The borders whether mental or physical, might move aside and a dialogue of a different nature might take place. 

Martina Corgnati Contemporary Practices Art Journal


Curated by Sam Bardaouil & Till Fellrath MATHAF Inaugural Exhibition | Doha

Told Untold Retold, 23 Stories Through Time & Space, is a collection of stories each vividly expressed in a newly commissioned artwork by 23 artists with roots in the Arab World. It is the first and largest exhibition of contemporary art on this scale within a museum context in the history of the region.

"There is a frank austerity in the work by Steve Sabella, the kind that appeals for time to be suspended. Despite the obviousness of the referent, Steve does not slide into the kind of kitsch one usually encounters in artworks that take it upon themselves to preach politics and clarifies that his installation "could also be considered an act of introspection and interrogation that will create a clash between the two words 'Identity' and 'Identification'."


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