The image of the potted sabra in Asim Abu-Shakra’s works is one of the only Palestinian images to have entered the canon of Israeli art. The sabra image was at the core of Abu-Shakra’s one-person exhibition at Rap Gallery, Tel Aviv, before his untimely death, at the age of 29, and of his posthumous comprehensive retrospective at Tel Aviv Museum’s Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in 1994.
Concurrent to works depicting a potted sabra, Abu-Shakra painted a very different series of works on large-scale canvases centered on sabra hedges. He juxtaposed the domesticated, tamed, circumscribed potted sabra with an image of the Palestinian thicket-a bifurcated, threatening and boundless vegetal image. In Untitled (1988), multiple circles generate a thicket of sabra hedges which take over the entire canvas, threatening to break out of the frame. Black, orange, and red paint blots are scattered amidst the leaves in the bottom section, reminiscent of combustion, sparks of fire, and scorched earth. In this context, the sabra attests to the violence inscribed in the land by the occupier. In the painting Sabra (1988), the sabra hedges are delimited within a pointed, prickly frame, and the hatching rendered in-between them call to mind sharp glass shards. In another work from the same year, Sabra, the red sabra flowers appear like bloodstains. In these works the sabra hedges transform into a fortified wall, an impenetrable thicket which offers no shelter.