See This: A Palestinian-American Artist’s Pieced-Together Landscapes

“I’m imbuing [these pieces] with emotions that hopefully find the viewer, even if they don’t understand what the words say.”

Article by Osman Can Yerebakan

Two artworks.Left: Jordan Nassar’s “Surge” (2024), a handwoven cotton-on-cotton embroidery that will be on view in the artist’s upcoming show in Los Angeles. Right: “Amal Hayati (Hope of My Life)” (2024), a glass tile work that takes its name from a song by the Egyptian musician Umm Kulthum. Image courtesy the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles/New York; James Cohan, New York; and the Third Line, Dubai. Photo: Mason Kuehle.

“Oh, my heart, don’t ask where is the love; it was a monument of illusions, so it collapsed,” the Egyptian musician Umm Kulthum sings in her 1966 lovelorn anthem “Al-Atlal (The Ruins).” The lyrics, which were based on a poem by Ibrahim Nagi, now frame a mosaic work in Jordan Nassar’s exhibition “Surge,” opening on May 18 at Anat Ebgi gallery in Los Angeles. The 60 by 96-inch piece, titled after the song, is made up of glass tiles on foam board. In the middle, a grid of six square images show animals, including a swan and a dog, hovering above a nocturnal mountainous landscape or a mosque. The composition was inspired by a Byzantine floor mosaic discovered by a farmer in 2022 in the Gaza Strip. “There is a very high chance that the mosaic is now completely destroyed — it’d be a miracle if it’s still there,” Nassar says.

Born in New York to a Palestinian father and Polish mother, Nassar’s art has long been centred on his Middle Eastern heritage. He typically creates wall works with embroidered cotton — traditionally called tatreez — through collaborations with craftswomen in Palestine. Mosaic making is a new medium for Nassar: “Tiles shouted at me because the patterns are built just like how each stitch operates in an embroidery,” he says. The artist first experimented with glass chips during a four-month residency at Hawaii’s Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design in 2022. The resulting landscape work, titled “Lē‘ahi” (2022), now sits in the Honolulu museum’s permanent collection. On display in Los Angeles is another landscape, “Mudun Falastin (Palestinian Cities)” (2024): a peaceful mountain view of an unspecified place is outlined by floral patterns and the Arabic names of 22 current or historic Palestinian cities, such as Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gaza and Nablus. Nassar found the motif on an embroidered tote bag that he bought at a U.N.-operated women’s training centre within a refugee camp in Ramallah in 2017. “I’m imbuing [these pieces] with emotions that hopefully find the viewer, even if they don’t understand what the words say,” Nassar says. “Jordan Nassar: Surge” will be on view from May 18 through July 20,