We’re back with Steve Sabella, a visual artist based here in Berlin. His new memoir describes living and working as a Palestinian in exile — and details, as he says, the condition of mental exile. He joined us in the studio recently to read from his book, The Parachute Paradox. Here is the prologue, which gives the book its title:
Up in the air, I traveled to the time I went skydiving in Haifa. On the tarmac, the plane looked like it hadn’t flown since the 1967 war. After takeoff, the engine roared as if it could fail any second, shaking wildly as it reached the sky. When the time came, I unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned out the open door against the strong wind. Without much thought, I did it. I let go. I was flying in the air. I felt light, less burdened by what was happening below. I felt identity-less, free from all the labels and classifications, free from all the racism and discrimination, free from the Israeli occupation I was born into.
But I didn’t open the parachute. I was in a tandem jump, attached to an Israeli. Over the years, I’ve come to see this situation in the air as a metaphor for what it means to be a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation. Life under occupation is like the reality of a Palestinian attached to an Israeli in a tandem jump. There is an Israeli on the back of every Palestinian, controlling all aspects of life—the Israeli is always in control. This impossible reality places the Palestinian under constant threat, in a never-ending hostage situation.
"And the narrative is broken up a bit," I mention to Sabella after he reads. "Can you talk to me about that?"
"The memoir genre is a very creative field," he replies. "It’s full of imagination. It’s a window into someone’s life, so the writer can decide how to start the view. Basically, it’s fragmented and I try to mirror the style of my collages. Most of my work, there’s a lot of fragments put together. And they don’t make sense, one fragment. But with many fragments, a visual starts to emerge. A fragment here, a fragment there, and then the story shaped itself. I’m not a writer. I’m an artist who wrote a book. So what do I know? In my collages, I understood certain concepts, like no center point, elimination. I go to the essence very quickly. My collages are stripped to their essence, you don’t see visual clutter. So, and the text, I took every single world, comma, whatever it is that didn’t serve a purpose. It’s lean, clean, and to the point."
The language of Sabella’s The Parachute Paradox might be lean and clean, but the message of personal and artistic liberation is expansive. The book is available in English and will come out in an Arabic translation this year.