Marwan Kassab Bachi, known as Marwan, was recognised for his post-surrealist paintings that were able to convey deep emotion, particularly through his depiction of the human face. In his body of work, the viewer can trace the history of composition and portraiture from the time of the ancient Egyptians to the modern day.
Associated with the New Figuration movement, the 1960s revival of figurative painting that followed post-war abstraction in Europe and America, Marwan’s work also bears the influence of his studies in Arabic literature at Damascus University, where he was exposed to Sufi philosophy.
For Marwan, the face was the most expressive of all sites—an affective landscape. His dramatic portraits, such as Munif al Razzaz (1965), convey the vast terrain of human interiority through subtle gradients of colour and tone. Untitled (2009–2010) depicts a face as a landscape. In this and other later works, Marwan painted discombobulated heads, distorted bodies and elements of caricature and surrealism that place his work in dialogue with a compositional genealogy that could be said to extend from ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman art to the tight close-ups of today’s digital works.
Recent solo and group exhibitions of Marwan’s work have been presented at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); Mosaic Rooms, London (2015); Armory Show, New York (2015); New Museum, New York (2014); Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, Portugal (2014); Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah (2014); Beirut Exhibition Center (2013); Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin (2008) and Berlinische Galerie, Berlin (2001).
His work can be found in the public collections of numerous institutions, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun, Amman; Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; National Museum Damascus; Tate Modern, London; British Museum, London; Institut du monde arabe, Paris; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, US; Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah; Khaled and Soha Shoman Collection, Amman and Birzeit University.
Among his awards were Le Prix du Forum culturel libanais (2005), Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2005), Fred Thieler Prize (2002), a scholarship grant from La Cité internationale des Arts, Paris (1973) and the Karl Hofer Preis (1966).
Marwan was a professor of painting at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin (1980–2002) and the founder of the Summer Academy, Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, Darat Al Funun, Amman (1999). He studied Arabic literature in Damascus (1955–1957) and attended a masterclass in painting with Professor Hann Trier at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Berlin (1957).
He was born in Damascus in 1934 but spent most of his life in Germany. He passed away in Berlin in 2016.
Sharjah Biennial 14