Returning: Palestinian Family Memories In Clay Reliefs, Photographs and Text

Vera Tamari

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This book is the culmination of an art project developed by visual artist Vera Tamari between 1989 and 1996, for which she created a series of fifteen terracotta bas-relief panels titled ‘Family Portraits’. Each of those panel was inspired by a family photograph from her father’s photographic collection, taken in Palestine between the early 1920s and the 1948 Nakba.

This book documents through the clay reliefs, photos and text, personal vignettes of Vera Tamari’s family from Jaffa and Jerusalem. The stories and images in
the book portray the subtleties of life of members of a typical Palestinian urban middle-class community, capturing their social gatherings and daily activities. They appear to live normally and following the natural daily rhythm of life -before their forced exodus and dispersal.

The resulting narrations, supported by photographic representations and the clay reliefs are inherently not only about loss and displacement, but also about remembrance and renewal – in many ways, it is about ’RETURNING’.

Born into a Jaffa family, Vera Tamari is a Palestinian artist residing in Ramallah. She is a multidimensional artist specializing in ceramic sculpture and conceptual art. Her work focuses on nature and the Palestinian landscape and issues of women, history and memory. She has exhibited widely in Palestine and internationally and is actively involved in the promotion of art and culture in Palestine. Vera has served for more than two decades as professor of Islamic Art and Architecture and Art History at Birzeit University, where she also founded and directed the Birzeit University Museum in 2005-2011. A book on Vera’s art and career Intimate Reflections: The Art of Vera Tamari, was published in 2021 by the A M Qattan Foundation.



A cornucopia of lovingly narrated family vignettes of the life of a Palestinian family, illustrated by evocative photographs alongside the author’s terracotta bas-relief panels, with the coastal city of Jaffa never far behind. Short gems by visual artist Vera Tamari full of details of Palestinian life that has all but vanished.

Raja Shehadeh, author of Palestinian Walks.

In her art, such as “Family Portraits” of clay reliefs created from archival family photographs, and in her writing of poignant stories for her book “Returning” about her family in Jaffa and Jerusalem before their expulsion in 1948 from their homeland, Vera remembers. Her remembrance became a renewal, a legacy for all times, for all Palestinians. As George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the present; he who controls the present controls the future.” Vera speaks of dreams and reverie. She relived her past, controlled her present and created a future for “unattainable” reverie. Her testimony brought back to life our heroic people’s saga and gave us back the hope of “Returning.”

Suha Shoman, Co-Founder and Chair, Darat al Funun - Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman, Jordan.

By reproducing photographs with her hands in terracotta, Vera Tamari leaves tactile traces of an intimate family life in Palestine and its extended homes. Here are intricate stories of family members, neighbours and friends, narrated by creating dialogue between written text, photographs and clay – a reminder of the earth of her usurped nation.

Using the photographic archive of her father, between 1920 and 1948 Palestine, she traces the layered emotions caught in gestures, representations, landscapes, outings, and architectural frames. She pays tribute to her loved ones and to the mundane in Palestinian society, and like this connects one family’s story to an entire nation and gives the ephemeral a home.

Yasmine Eid Sabbagh, author of Vie possibles et imaginaires, member of the Arab Image Foundation.

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