The Palestinian Museum, Birzeit.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Berlin-based Palestinian artist Steve Sabella has put his artwork, No Man’s Land, up for auction at Sotheby’s, the oldest and largest auction house in the world. The auction will be held on Mar. 24 in London. Sabella will donate all sale revenues to benefit the Palestinian Museum’s Birzeit, Education Programme.
The Education Programme is a key component of the Palestinian Museum’s programmatic strategy. Annually, it develops and hosts interactive educational activities benefitting more than 3,000 students from 60 schools, in addition to activities geared towards university students and intergenerational groups.
The programme also produces educational resources that promote children’s critical thinking, improve their visual and cognitive perception and nourish their imagination and creativity.
Sabella had eleven solos in Palestine prior to moving to London and later to Berlin. He is known for his imaginative use of photography and painterly photographic collages, his most recent being The Great March of Return (2019), including over one thousand photographs captured by five Palestinian journalists from Gaza, contrasted with photos of outer space, in a monumental “present-day fresco” demonstrating a nation’s eternal fight for liberation.
The video art piece of The Great March of Return premiered at the opening night of the Gaza International Video Art Festival in 2019. For his 2014 series 38 Days of Re-Collection, the artist stayed in a Palestinian home occupied by Israelis in Jerusalem since 1948, photographing every detail of the house and claiming his Right of Return.
He printed these photos on fragments of paint peeled from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, the neighbourhood in which he was born and raised. Sabella’s daring installation Settlement: Six Israelis & One Palestinian (2010), commissioned by MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art, places the viewer in a standoff: he photographed six life-size portraits of Israeli men, standing in front of a wall similar to Israel’s concrete barrier, wearing only underwear.
Opposite this row is a photograph of the artist himself. Finally, there is Sabella’s monument-like glass sculpture All That Remains: Wood shard collected from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on top of fragments with photographs taken in a Palestinian house occupied by Israelis in 1948.
No Man’s Land (2015) is an impressive six-metre-wide photographic triptych, which was featured in the Palestinian Museum’s historic international group exhibition, Intimate Terrains: Representations of a Disappearing Landscape.
It is a surreal triptych of three collages composed from images of Lake Victoria in London. Elements from the everyday environment –– rotting leaves, feathers, pollen dust – are caught in sharp detail.
They are transformed in the collage process — the lake’s surface appears instead like the darkness of space, with interminable depth, a topographic map or a microscopic view of the ocean floor.
In turn, they ask us to imagine our surroundings anew, and see even a speck of dust as representative of all the mysteries of the universe.
Addressing the importance of art in the Palestinian context, Sabella has said that “in the fragmented land of Palestine, art has become the ambassador for the nation’s eternal struggle for liberation. Art can be a great tool of resistance, as it can transform the impossible into the next creative innovation”.
On Sotheby’s No Man’s Land project, Director General of the Palestinian Museum Adila Laïdi-Hanieh said that “we cherish Steve’s initiative and value his belief in the Museum’s mission of developing non-conventional education to create a better tomorrow.
“We are grateful to Sotheby’s for generously agreeing to include No Man’s Land in their prestigious 20th Century Art/ Middle East sale which features sought-after artists from the modern era to the contemporary period”.
In 2017, Sabella’s studio launched four separate book projects: the first English translation of Palestinian novelist, poet and critic Mohammed al-Asaad’s Atfal al-Nada (Children of the Dew); al-Asaad’s translation of The Parachute Paradox into Arabic; The Artist’s Curse, a series of reflections and pieces of advice on the life of an artist, published daily online; and Palestine Unsettled, a photo-journey throughout Palestine during the Second Intifada with four critical texts by renowned scholars, and a recipient of the 2017 Visual Arts Grant from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.
His award-winning memoir, The Parachute Paradox (Kerber Verlag, 2016) follows his upbringing in occupied Jerusalem, his search for liberation from within, and his developing means of resistance to the colonised imagination.
Through his art and writing, he works beyond narratives of exile. He articulates human connection that transcends culture and nationality, and advocates for global citizenship.
Sabella holds an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster, London, and an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. In 2008, he received the Ellen Auerbach Award from the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, leading to the publication of his monograph Steve Sabella - Photography 1997–2014 (Hatje Cantz, 2014). His artwork has been exhibited and is held in collections internationally.
The Palestinian Museum is an independent institution dedicated to supporting an open and dynamic Palestinian culture nationally and internationally. It presents and engages with new perspectives on Palestinian history, society and culture.
It also offers spaces for creative ventures, educational programmes and innovative research. It is a flagship project of Taawon and one of the new cultural projects in Palestine.
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