Born in Beirut in 1925, Etel Adnan is widely recognized as one of the foremost authors, poets and playwrights of her generation. Writing across languages and continents, she has long been a singular voice in the cultural discourses of the Middle East, and painting has been a key component to her artistic work since the late 50s.
The show includes both earlier and recent paintings, makimonos, tapestries, her early Super 8 films, and videos in tribute to the artist.
Etel Adnan´s paintings are almost always small in size. Her canvases range between 25 x 30 cm and 40 x 50 cm, seldom exceeding this maximum. Her direct, straight-forward paint strokes and lucid swaths of colour make her devoted investigation of painting truly fresh, poetic, and unpretentious.
Standing out as one of the most influential women in the Middle East in the literary and artistic fields, she says:
"...I’m writing as a person who comes from painting. By that I mean what you do is make your composition. You trust your colors and your shapes, your gestures. You trust that something beyond that will come through even if you don’t know exactly what. You know that you are not just decorating a surface. You know that you are saying more than what meets the eye. In a way this is what we call a collage, but instead of using bits of paper you abstract shapes or planes of color. This is the way I proceed in poetry. I have the need to say something very precise, but I don’t need to say it in a precise way. And I trust that whatever I want to say will come through. That I don’t need to be sequential. I don’t even need to be clear. I have to be clear in my intentions, not in my words..” (1986, The Non-Worldly World: A Conversation with Etel Adnan. Poetry Flash)
Etel Adnan works between Paris and Beirut. Born to a Turkish Muslim father in the Ottoman army and a Greek Orthodox mother, Adnan was caught between a conference of nationalities, religions, and languages. She spoke Turkish with her father, Greek with her mother, French at school, and Arabic in the streets of Beirut, immersing herself in each language and culture, yet separated from it as well. She left Beirut to Paris in 1949 to pursue her PhD in philosophy at the Sorbonne, which introduced her to a vast intellectual world of post-war France. In 1955, she moved to the United States to continue her studies at the University of California in Berkley and Harvard University. It is in California, where she lived until the 90s, that she starts experimenting with painting. During this time, Lebanon and the region experienced civil wars and political upheaval, described in Adnan’s seminal book on the Lebanese civil war, Sitt Marie Rose. Her books of poetry, fiction, and plays are translated into more than 10 languages. In 2010, Sfeir-Semler Beirut organized the first large exhibition for Etel Adnan’s paintings, drawings, and leporellos. In 2012, Etel Adnan’s paintings and tapestries where displayed in Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Most recently, a monographic book has been published during the occasion of the Documenta opening, which includes essays by Carolyn Christov-Bakagiev, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Simone Fattal. Her work is in the collections of Centre Pompidou, Paris and Mathaf, Doha, Qatar as well as many other major public and private collections.