Above: Installation of The Sea Beneath Our Eyes. All photos courtesy of KMAC Museum.
The Field is Infinite
Jordan Nassar’s solo show at KMAC Museum, The Field is Infinite, is a study in dualities: inside and outside, entering and leaving, belonging and displacement, art and craft. Between these, a third space is revealed, containing nuance, gray areas, and ambiguity. Nassar explores these universal binaries and the ambiguity between them, drawing from his own lived experience as a second-generation Palestinian-American. Using material culture and craft, the work places the viewer within the boundaries of these dualities.
The exhibition is separated in two distinct sections, first greeting the viewer with a meticulously styled living space. The Sea Beneath Our Eyes, the installation of a one-bedroom apartment decorated in jewel-toned blues, greens, and teals, is fashioned with objects made in Israel and Palestine. Objects like throw pillows and drinking glasses are coordinated, and small details all the way down to the color of books and trinkets make the space feel lived-in, but not quite, presenting a fantastical space that tells a story of displacement and belonging.
Through material culture, Nassar describes the significance of his identity as a member of a diaspora, inhabiting a third space between insider and outsider, “When you’re part of a diaspora community, the easiest things to export are material objects. Food, music, and objects (like craft), are easy to bring and do in a new place. For someone like me who is second-generation… That becomes everything. I don’t know what it’s like to live in Palestine… But for me, what it is to be Palestinian is to eat these things, listen to this music, and have these crafted items in your house… A lot of our culture is superficial because we don’t have access to the full experience.”1
Each crafted object in The Sea Beneath Our Eyes was commissioned or acquired from craftspeople in the region, their identity becoming woven into the material culture of Israel and Palestine. When commissioning pieces, Nassar would ask the artisans to make small changes from their regular designs, like simple adjustments in shape or color. In this spatial context, these objects become part of a constructed reality that serves as a powerful imaginative tool in contrast to the reality that members of a diaspora are faced with. Compounded is the very fact that the piece is in a gallery. Even with back-lit faux windows, the familiar white cube reminds us that what we are seeing is not reality. Like a dream, the apartment is a construction that, while feeling real, is simultaneously removed. Neither fact nor fiction, The Sea Beneath Our Eyes physically places the viewer in between dualities.
Entering one space and exiting another, the viewer is confronted with iron gates that delineate the first and second halves of the exhibition, as if crossing a border between the inside and the outside. This second half, consisting of embroidery and glass work, speaks to Nassar’s commitment to craft tradition and the creation of an identity both tied to and disconnected from the land from which the referenced traditions originate. In conversation, Nassar describes the significance of embroidery and how certain patterns are embroidered onto clothing to communicate aspects of the wearer’s identity. Due to the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their ancestal lands, location-specific designs have been lost or diluted.
These embroidered pieces consist of two distinct bodies of work—those made entirely by Nassar and those made in collaboration with Palestinian women. Pieces like Jaffa Gate (2019), I Tell the Sun’s Story (2019), and In the Heart of the Rose (2020), exemplify this partnership with Palestinian artists, who stitch a border that is then filled in by Nassar with an imagined landscape. On this process, Nassar says, “It’s a little bit different from what I would call a collaboration because I am commissioning it. But the way that I commission it forces the women to make an aesthetic decision, so when I get it back I then have to react to those decisions.”2
Similarly, glass compositions like Bab Al-Amoud (Gate of the Pillar) (2020) employ regional craft traditions to depict imagined landscapes. The glass works, made using a technique distinct in the Old City of Hebron on the West Bank, reference the form of room dividers common in Palestinian homes. Their titles reference another dividing force—the Arabic names for the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem. These works represent divisions and connection, whether in the process that brings artists on different coasts together or in the visual separations present. A Yellow World A Blue Sun (2020) is one such piece that visually represents the dualities tied to the region; as holy land and homeland, and the third space, occupied by potential in the face of a cynical reality.
Nassar insists that as a member of the diaspora, he does not speak for the Palestinian people. Rather, his goal is to make work that is universal and timeless.3 In the context of KMAC Museum, this may not be immediately apparent. Each body of work, with their distinct references to geographically-based craft traditions, presents a graspable, objective meaning. Broadly, however, the show explores our universal relation to material culture and place. The Sea Beneath Our Eyes may seem specific, but the feelings that it stirs—those of comfort, nostalgia, belonging—are universal. Similarly, the ambiguous mountainous landscapes present in the second half of the show could very well represent landscapes in Appalachia. Like the dualities represented by the two distinct halves of the show, the dual meanings in the pieces place the viewer in a space occupied by nuance, ambiguity, and subjectivity.
Anna Blake (she/her) is an independent curator and writer. She is a recent graduate of the University of Louisville, where she earned her MA in Critical & Curatorial Studies.
Installation of The Sea Beneath Our Eyes
Installation of The Sea Beneath Our Eyes
From left to right: Jaffa Gate (2019), hand-embroidered cotton on cotton; I Tell the Sun's Story (2019), hand-embroidered cotton on cotton; In the Heart of the Rose (2020), hand-embroidered cotton on cotton
Installation of The Field is Infinite
Foreground: Bab Al-Amoud (Gate of The Pillar) (2020), flameworked glass beads, steel, wire | Right: A Yellow World A Blue Sun (2020), hand-embroidered cotton on cotton