Critics’ Picks

Jordan Nassar, Scatter Them In Forest and Meadow, 2018, cotton thread on cotton, 22 x 22".

Jordan Nassar, Scatter Them In Forest and Meadow, 2018, cotton thread on cotton, 22 x 22".


Jordan Nassar

Princeton University Art Museum
Princeton University
September 14, 2019–January 5, 2020

Tatreez is a centuries-old Palestinian form of cross-stitch embroidery, most commonly practiced by women. Its motifs range from wholly abstract patterns to stylized representations of local flora and fauna. Following the Nakba, in 1948, tatreez grew in importance as a national and political symbol, its resonance heightened by the growing precarity of the Palestinian state itself.

Jordan Nassar uses this medium to investigate the complexities of how members of a diaspora relate to the land of their origin. Rosetta, 2015, the oldest work in this show, is a white-on-white sampler of riffs on traditional Palestinian motifs, an example of Nassar’s early experiments with embroidery. Much like the ancient artifact its title references, the work is a ghostly semiotic key, an elusive and uncertain attempt at developing a language that might manage to encompass the numerous facets of his complex identity. 

The artist’s more recent works employ these intricate arrays of stitches to compose intimate landscapes. Recalling the paintings of Etel Adnan, his imagined vistas are built from simplified forms: flat blocks of color in an unnatural palette. When they do not fill the canvas, the landscapes appear nestled within—or seem to butt against—broad decorative borders, some composed and executed by embroiderers in the West Bank.

Although tiny embroidered x’s constitute mountains, trees, and suns, the larger organizing tessellations dissolve the image, creating an unresolved representation, a hazy utopia. The stitched patterns function as mediating layers, both screens and veils, through which a yearned-for homeland can be simultaneously known, remembered, and, possibly, forgotten. Nassar’s works quietly remind us that even though culture, here symbolized by tatreez, emerges from and remains politically linked to a specific locus and history, it is also dynamic and deterritorialized, a fact known to all migrants, exiles, and refugees whose displacement forces them to carry their culture with them wherever they go.