MARWAN, works from 1964 to 2008, 2024, Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg, installation view
Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg, 2024

Marwan Kassab-Bachi (b. 1934, Damascus, Syria – d. 2016, Berlin, Germany) known simply as MARWAN began his career after studying Arabic literature at the Damascus University. In 1957, he moved to Berlin where he attended the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. He very quickly integrated a group of German expressionist painters, working alongside artists such as Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schönebeck, and spent the rest of his life in Berlin where he became a professor at the Akademie der Künste.

His early paintings from the 1960s center on the human figure. Sometimes androgynous, often highly erotic, the depicted characters are decidedly physical and question the human body as an outer self. They are also at the same time disquietingly amorphous. Their shapes trick perspective and their extremities dissolve into the background, as if the painter tried to capture their souls through the depiction of their bodily shells.
In the early 70s, MARWAN’s paintings started to focus solely on the human face, using a horizontal format, and painting the human visage as a landscape, in a blur of topographical features. Over the years, they morphed into what he called “heads”, and he continued to paint these until the end. Abstract brushstrokes in earthly tones at first glance, they reveal themselves as multiple melancholic faces, layered one on top of the other, gazing straight at the viewer from the depth of the canvas.

Producing sketches, watercolor drawings, etchings or paintings, MARWAN developed his Sisyphean painting language through a meditative, spiritual approach by painting over and over the same face, often on the same canvas. In his quasi-obsessive search for the essence of beings, and of spirits, in his quasi-mystical Sufi approach to painting, MARWAN’s work clearly carries his oriental roots. It is at the same time highly characteristic of the German expressive painting movement of 1960s Berlin. His distortion and eventually abstraction of forms led him to create overpowering canvases, showing intensely eloquent figures.

After his death, MARWAN’s work was presented at Sharjah Biennial 14 (2019) and Venice Biennale 57 (2017), among others. His work can be found in the collections of MoMA, New York; Hamburger Bahnhof - Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart, Berlin; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi; Tate Modern, London; British Museum, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Bibliothèque National de France, Paris; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman; Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; Kunsthalle Bremen; National Museum, Damascus; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg and many international private collections.  

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2024 Works from 1964 to 2008, Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg, Germany
2018 Works on Paper: 1968-2014, Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg, Germany
2016 Painting, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg, Germany
2015 Not Towards Home, But The Horizon, Mosaic Rooms, London, United Kingdom
2014 MARWAN: Early Works (1962-1972), Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal
Topographies of the Soul, Barjeel Art Foundation, Maraya Art Center, Sharjah, UAE
2013 MARWAN: Early Works 1962 - 1972, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon
2012 MARWAN, Galeri Artist, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 Seventy Five, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Painting, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg, Germany
Open Until the End - Marwan A Retrospective in Eleven Acts, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Germany
2008 The 99 Attributes, The Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, Germany
2005 Damascus - Berlin - Damascus, Damascus, Syria
Marwan: Khaddousch or the unknown early work. Watercolors and drawings 1962-1971, Lindenau Museum in Altenburg, Altenburg, Germany
2004 Khaled Shoman Foundation, Amman, Jordan
2002 Kunsthalle Emden, Emden, Germany
2001 Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, West Bank
Richard Haizmann Museum, Niebüll, Germany
2000 Brechhaus Weissensee, Berlin, Germany
1998 Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan
1996 Al Hanager Hall, Cairo, Egypt
1995 Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan
1993 Bibliothèque National de Paris, France
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
1991 Kunststation St. Peter, Cologne, Germany
Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany
1987 Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Kiel, Germany
1985 Gallery Wolfgang Ketterer, Munich, Germany
1984 Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Germany
1983 Overbeck-Society, Lübeck, Germany
1981 Bellevue Palace, Documenta Archive, Kassel, Germany
1980 Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
1976 Gruenenbaum Gallery, New York, USA
Orangerie Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, Germany
1972 Gallery Lietzow, Berlin, Germany
1970 Arab Cultural Center, Damascus, Syria
1967 Gallery Springer, Berlin, Germany

Selected Group Exhibitions

2023 In the Heart of Another Country: The Diasporic Imagination Rises, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE (forthcoming)
Nationalgalerie: A Collection for the 21st Century, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany
2022 In The Heart of Another Country, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Germany
2021 Icons, Boghossian Foundation, Villa Empain, Brussels, Belgium
2019 Making New Time, Sharjah Biennial 14, Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE
2017 Viva Arte Viva, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
2014 Here and Elsewhere, New Museum, New York, USA
2013 Art in Berlin. 1945 Until Now, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin, Germany
2011 760 914 cm² print, Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany
2009 11th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey


2005 Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
2002 Fred-Thieler Prize

Public Collections

  Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi; Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman; Solidere, Beirut; State Museums of Prussian Cultural Heritage, Berlin; Berlinische Galerie, Museum of Modern Art, Photography and Architecture, Berlin; Foundation Archive of the Academy of Arts, Berlin; Berliner Bank - BerlinHyp, Berlin; Art Collections of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn; Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany; Graphic CollectionVeste Coburg, Germany National Museum Damascus; Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany Städel Museum, Fankfurt / Main; Städtisches Museum Göttingen, Germany; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Sprengel Museum, Hannover; Municipal Museum Jena, Romantikerhaus, Jena, Germany; Tate Modern, London; British Museum, London; Museum of Art and Cultural History of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, Germany; Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany; Bavarian State Painting Collection, State Gallery of Modern Art Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich; Ludwig Gallery Castle Oberhausen, Germany; Landesmuseum Oldenburg, Germany; Bibliothèque National de France, Paris; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris ; Musée-Galerie de la Saita, Paris; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Collection East German Landesbausparkasse LBS, Potsdam, Germany; Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Palestine; Municipal Gallery Wolfsburg, Germany; Center Georges Pompidou, Paris


1980 Professor for Painting, Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, Germany
1963 Painting, Hochshule der Künste (HdK), Berlin, Germany
1957 University of Damascus, Arab Literature, Damascus, Syria