Artist Profile

Jordan Nassar

on his search for universality

Portrait of artist by Alexander Rotondo
Historian Mircea Eliade describes tradition as a reenactment of a culture’s “origin myths” through the repetition of patterns. As a cultural expression, traditional crafts are preserved through the devotion of practitioners to inherited rules and schema. Jordan Nassar's chosen media bear the trace of built-in formulae which, in his deft hands, become fertile ground for experimentation.

Born to an American-Palestinian father and a Polish-American mother with Jewish ancestry, Jordan grew up hearing stories of the ancestral home from visiting relatives, in the background of strong pro-Israeli sentiment in his native New York. These stories and the artisanal objects his family kept around his childhood home sparked dreams of a mythical land his ancestors came from. His early fascination evolved into a deeper appreciation of the role that crafts, and especially textiles, play as signifiers of cultural identity and “transitional objects” as defined by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott within diasporic and displaced communities.

In his practice, Jordan adopts different Palestinian traditions, as well as Levantine and Mediterranean more broadly: wood/brass/mother of pearl inlay, hand-fired glass beads and, most prominently, tatreez - a Palestinian version of cross stitch with variants specific to locales (now mostly lost due to the homogenising action of displacement). Each locale has its distinctive symbol, and Jordan may sometimes use repetition as a device to turn these symbols into patterns.

Language too, serves as a generative source for Nassar, who was educated in linguistics. He turns to the work of seminal Lebanese-American poets Etel Adnan and Khalil Gibran to suggestively title his own. This is evidenced in the pieces MEDIANOCHE0 owns: There where mornings go, In the yellow lake, A yellow moon A blue sun, (from the solo exhibition I cut the sky in two). In these works, chimerical landscapes are broken into the tessellated grids typical of tatreez and combine blocks of patterned colour in dynamic compositions that mirror contemporary graphic design practices. As they are produced in partnership with craftswomen in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, his initial monochrome blueprints become the framework for each collaboration. In them, he lays out the composition and density of the patterns involved and determines which areas are to be embroidered by him with landscape, and which by patterns stitched by them. The final colour choices are the result of a symbiotic back and forth.
The affinity between Etel Adnan in particular and Jordan goes well beyond the latter's naming method. Formally, both artists walk the line between abstraction and simplified figuration. The similarities are most obvious when it comes to their treatment of a common subject matter: the idealized hills, moons and sunken suns of their respective imagined homelands. Their shared ruminations reveal artists grappling with a hybrid identity: Jordan identifies as Palestinian, American and Jewish; Etel, for her part, never fit comfortably in French society, nor did she feel like there was a place for her back in Lebanon. In her fine art practice, Etel charted a path Jordan strives to follow. She sought a genuine way of expressing her ambivalence: her love and yearning for, and her alienation from - a land that was and wasn't hers. Her paintings eschew political rhetoric and focus on emotion and poetry, unearthing what is universal in her individual experience. It is this universality as an emergent quality of honesty that Jordan attempts to replicate in his practice. By tapping into desires deeply rooted in the collective psyche, he opens a window into his utopia but also each viewer’s nostalgia for the way things never were.

Jordan believes in the figure of the artist as craftsperson and calls for visual artists to master their craft and make work that is engaging and communicates through purely visual means, without resorting to extensive verbal explanations that occur outside the work. It is a testament to the clarity of his message that he has been able to bypass the various trends, tropes and demands for cultural performativity and address the emotional complexity of experiencing one’s heritage outside its original context on his own terms. Jordan's support for causes dear to him is not intertwined with his need to create. Ultimately, his art aims to find kinship with an audience much broader than a particular community - showing, along the way, that there's much more that unites us than divides us. View artworks ︎︎︎

Jordan Nassar earned his BA at Middlebury College in 2007. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Asia Society, Princeton University Art Museum, Museum of Arts and Design, Katonah Museum of Art, KMAC, CCA Tel Aviv; as well as at commercial galleries Anat Ebgi, James Cohan, and The Third Line. His work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The California MOCA, and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. He is the recipient of the 2021 Unbound United States Artists Fellowship in craft. He is also the founder and creative director of the fashion brand Adish.