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Dalloul Art Foundation

STEVE SABELLA, Palestine (1975)


Photographer Steve Sabella was born in Jerusalem in 1975. In 1997, he began what would ultimately become a long and illustrious academic trajectory, earning a degree in art photography from the...

Written by Alessandra Amin

Photographer Steve Sabella was born in Jerusalem in 1975. In 1997, he began what would ultimately become a long and illustrious academic trajectory, earning a degree in art photography from the Musrara School of Photography in Jerusalem. Later, Sabella relocated to New York to complete a BA in visual studies at the Empire State College of the State University of New York (SUNY), from which he graduated in 2007. Immediately following his graduation, Sabella won a Chevening Scholarship from the English government in order to study in London, where he earned an MA in photographic studies at the University of Westminster. He graduated in 2008 with a Caparo Award of Distinction, but his third degree wasn’t his last; with the support of a Said Foundation Scholarship, he earned a second MA in art business at Sotheby’s in 2009.

Sabella was born eight years after Israel annexed Jerusalem, so he did not know life before the occupation. Growing up as a Palestinian in the epicenter of Israeli colonialism, Sabella was aware of how photography was mobilized as a means of propaganda, and of the many ways Jerusalem itself had been overdetermined in European and Israeli photographs. Partially in response to this, Sabella’s trajectory as a photographer began outside the city walls, where he captured the natural beauty of the trees and rock formations that make up Palestine’s hilly landscape. “From among the rocks of the Palestinian wilderness,” notes artist and critic Kamal Boullata, “the young Jerusalem photographer defined his own identification with the pristine state of his ancestral land.” 

To this day, Steve Sabella’s photographic practice continues to explore the various facets of the artist’s identity as a Palestinian. This is not the exclusive theme of his work, however, nor is it something he approaches from the same angle each time; instead, Palestine appears in Sabella’s work through different forms and in different tones, ranging from the tragic to the absurd, from politically didactic to deeply personal. In addition to photography and video work, which the artist sees as profoundly intertwined, Sabella works in large-scale installations, such as the fiberglass Dependence (2016). Moreover, the artist finds unexpected ways of bringing tactility into his work with photographs, as seen in his 2014 series 38 Days of Re-Collection. Here, Sabella uses photo emulsion to spread images onto scrapings of paint he has collected from the walls of houses in Jerusalem’s Old City. The brittle scrapings themselves literalize a palimpsest: pieces of the present, they nevertheless render the past visible in their strata of colors, collected throughout the years as people painted and repainted their homes. These layers seem to testify to the hands that painted them, remnants and reminders of manual labor even as they bear infinitely reproducible photographic images. These ghostly black-and-white images stand in contrast to the warm materiality of the paint chips, evoking a free Jerusalem that no longer exists for its Palestinian residents. 

While photography remains at the center of his work, Sabella does not limit himself to creating images, but also critically appropriates the photographs of others to create compelling digital collages. Perhaps the most significant example of this is The Great March of Return (2019), a “modern-day fresco” where some referred to it as the Palestinian Sistine Chapel, resembling the heavenly ceiling by the Italian painter Michelangelo. For this work, Sabella culled over a thousand images of “The Great March of Return,” a dangerous and powerful assembly held weekly in Gaza in protest of the Israeli blockade, from the work of Gazan photojournalists Atieh Darwish, Mustafa Mohamad, Majdi Fathi, Mohammed Asad, and Ashraf Amra. He then juxtaposed these images with photographs of outer space, creating a kaleidoscopic composition of Palestinian flags, shouting protestors, burning tires, and stunning nebulae to “demonstrate a nation’s eternal fight for liberation.”

After prioritizing photography for twenty years, Sabella has recently begun to “explore image-making through words,” as the artist describes writing. In 2016, he published The Parachute Paradox, a memoir, which was translated into Arabic in 2017 by Palestinian novelist, poet, and critic Mohammed al-Asaad. The memoir garnered critical acclaim for its sensitive, personal engagement with the Israeli occupation and the candor with which Sabella discusses his own quest for identity and liberation. Among his studio’s most recent ventures are the first English translation of al-Asaad’s Atfal al-Nada (Children of Dew) and Palestine UNSETTLED, a documentary volume that combines photos taken throughout Palestine during the Second Intifada with critical texts by scholars in the field. 

Sabella lives and works in Berlin, Germany.


Kamal Boullata, Palestinian Art, 1850 to the Present. London: Saqi, 2009

Artist’s website,

Steve Sabella – Photography, 1997-2014. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2014

Steve Sabella and Rebecca Raue: Fragments From Our Beautiful Future. Berlin: Kerber Verlag, 2017

Steve Sabella, The Parachute Paradox, Berlin: Kerber Verlag, 2016

Documentary films

Guest & Story by Samah Altaweel, 2015

In the Darkroom with Steve Sabella by Nadia J. Kabalan, 2014

Arts InSight: Who is Steve Sabella? produced by Ernie Manouse, Europe Through Their Eyes by Ma’an TV Productions, 2010

“Jerusalem in Exile” and “Kan Yama Kan”— two episodes in the documentary project Beyond Blue & Gray by Eyes Infinite Films, 2005-2006


Selected Solo Exhibitions


Evolution, Paris Art Fair, Grand Palais, Paris, France
Wavelengths, Metroquadro Gallery, Turin, Italy


Fragments from our Beautiful Future, double-person solo, The Bumiller Collection, Berlin, Germany


Steve Sabella – The Parachute Paradox, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait City, Kuwait


Fragments, Berloni Gallery, London, UK
Layers, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait
Archaeology of the Future, Scavi Scaligeri International Center for Photography in collaboration with Boxart Gallery, Verona, Italy
Independence, Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Euphoria & Beyond, The Empty Quarter Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Steve Sabella: In Exile, Metroquadro Gallery, Rivoli, Italy


Kan Yama Kan & Till the End, French Cultural Center, Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine
Franco-German Cultural Center, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine


End of Days, Al-Kahf Gallery, International Center of Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine
Al Najah University, Nablus, Occupied Palestine
French Cultural Centers of Gaza and Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine
Al-Hallaj Gallery, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine


Search, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine
Identity, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine
Life is Splendid, Artotheque de Montreal Gallery, Montreal, Canada


A Moment of Truth, French Cultural Center, Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine

Selected Group Exhibitions


Intimate Terrains: Representations of a Disappearing Landscape, The Palestinian Museum, Birzeit, Occupied Palestine
MIA Photo Fair, Milan, Italy


Tribe: Contemporary Photography from the Arab World, Katzen Arts Center, Washington DC, USA
Beirut Spring Festival, Beirut, Lebanon
Un oeil ouvert sur le monde arabe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France


Lada Dada Kalem, Kunsthaus KuLe, Berlin, Germany
Athens Photo Fest – Photobook Festival, Benaki Museum, Pireos Annexe, Athens, Greece


Inaugurazione nova sede a Torino, Metroquadro, Turin, Italy
After the Last Sky,Ballhaus Naunystrasse, Berlin, Germany
The Country of Last Things, Art-Lab Berlin, Berlin, Germany


First Biennial of Photographers of the Contemporary Arab World, Institut du Monde Arabe and Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
Nel Mezzo del Mezzo, Museo Riso, Palermo, Italy
Summer Exhibition, Berloni Gallery, London, UK
2x10: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Boxart, Boxart Gallery, Verona, Italy
Walls and Margins, Barjeel Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
German Cool, Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, UAE


View from Inside: Contemporary Arab Video, Photography, and Mixed Media, FotoFest Biennial, Houston, USA
Abu Dhabi Festival, Emirates Palace Gallery, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Keep Your Eyes on the Wall, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait
Yalla Shebab Film Festival and Exhibition - 5th Edition, Lecca, Italy
Recreational Purpose, Bahrain National Museum, Manama (commissioned), Bahrain
Bridge to Palestine, Mark Hachem Gallery at the Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon


Keep Your Eye on the Wall, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles; Photoquai 2013, Espace Central Dupon, Paris, France
Berlin, Israel/Palestine or How Will a New Mindset be Possible, Sprechsaal, Berlin, Germany


The Changing Room: Arab Reflections on Praxis and Times, London; Spazio Qubi, Turin, Italy
Olympic Cultural Program, Hub Westminster, London, UK


This Is Not a Love Song, The Empty Quarter Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Young Academy, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany
The Interrupted Image, Nicholas Robinson Gallery, New York, USA
Borderlines: Deconstructing Exile, Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Residua, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE


Palestine : La création dans tous ses états, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
National Museum of Bahrain, Manama, Bahrain
Told, Untold, Retold, inaugural exhibition of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Deconstructing Myths & Realities, Galerie Caprice Horn, Berlin, Germany
NOW: Art of the 21st Century, Phillips de Pury, London, UK


The Independent Photographers Terry O’Neil Award Exhibition, Fulham Palace, London, UK
Independent Photographers Gallery, East Sussex, UK
Gates of the Mediterranean, Palazzo Piozzo, Rivoli, Italy
Skip Intro, P3 Gallery, London, UK


Neighbors in Dialogue, Istanbul Collection for Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Challenging Walls, Walkscreen, projection on the Separation Wall, Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine


Art in a Social Context, Boomerang Theatre, Cork


At Home, Abrons Art Center, New York, USA
Shaping Communities in Times of Crisis: Narratives of Land, Peoples, and Identities,
International Center of Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine


Palestinian Ministry of Culture Exhibition, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 
Young Artist of the Year Award, AM Qattan Fundation, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine


Mind, Body, & Soul, ARC Gallery, Chicago, USA


Homeland, Musrara School of Photography, Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine
Hope and the Aesthetic Moment: Young Artist of the Year Award 2002, AM Qattan Foundation, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine
Eyes from Jerusalem, Museo di Roma, Trastavere, Rome, Italy


Kick Off, The New Gallery, Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine


Search, Beit Ha’am Gallery, Tel Aviv, Occupied Palestine

Awards and Honors


Visual Arts Grant, Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (for Palestine UNSETTLED). 


Said Foundation Scholarship


Ellen Aurbach Award, Akademie der Künste, Berlin
Caparo Award of Distinction, University of Westminster
Chevening Scholarship


British Museum, London, UK
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Institut Du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art
Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, UAE
Bahrain National Museum, Manama, Bahrain



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