DUBAI: The Palestinian-American artist discusses his 2021 hand-embroidered artwork, “Pebbles on Two Hills,” recently showcased at Art Dubai.
Growing up, I was always into crafts — whether it was origami, crocheting, weaving, or, especially, textiles. In my twenties, what was going on in my life, separate from making artwork, was wanting to connect more with my Palestinian heritage. I started by picking up a needle and thread and I learned so much about the history and all the meaning of the symbols, patterns and different regional styles of Palestinian embroidery. It was the beginning of a long road of experimenting and learning how to be an artist because I never went to art school.
People always says, “Oh, it must be so meditative,” and I always say, ‘It’s really not.’ When I’m crocheting or knitting, I really get into a rhythm and after I stop and go to bed, I still feel that rhythm in my head. I’m basically painting a painting, using the different colors, but I still have to follow the patterns to make sure they are the same. I’m thinking about the pattern — where I have to stop this color and start the next one — and I have to pay attention because it’s very easy to just keep going when I should’ve stopped and then I have to go back and take out all the stitches.
Part of my work is definitely recognizing the fact that I’m part of the Palestinian diaspora. Around the time that I was doing landscapes, when I would talk to certain Palestinians who had never been there, I noticed they would talk about Palestine in a way that felt really dreamlike — imaginary; a fantasy. It was always this perfect, beautiful place with hills, goats and olive trees. I was really moved by this notion that Palestine is this fantasy for so many people in the diaspora. Palestine, in the minds of people in the diaspora, can be anything. I’m not being realistic with my landscapes, so they also have this fantastical element to them.
Before it ended up in Art Dubai, this work was something I was experimenting with. Instead of having mountains, I basically made this work with the abstract idea of oddly shaped circles, like pebbles, on two hills that make a V-shape and all these pebbles are filling it up. But there are still spaces between the pebbles where you can see the sky.
It’s an experiment with composition and it’s kind of fun and whimsical.