A celebrated writer, poet, artist and filmmaker, Etel Adnan is considered a leading figure in modern and contemporary art and an influence on generations of artists, poets and intellectuals. For the past half century, Adnan’s practice, much like her life, grappled with the diasporic experience, the notion of exile, and the interstitial space of language and identity, which has been sutured through a relentless solace in nature. The daughter of a Greek mother from Smyrna and an Ottoman Turkish father, she grew up in Beirut with a mixture of Greek, Turkish, Arabic and French being spoken around her. She would compose her first poems while studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. She also pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University.
Although initially known as a poet, Adnan became well known for the Matisse-like landscapes that she now creates from her desk in Paris. She uses a palette knife to apply oil paint, often directly from the tube. In the late 1950s, Adnan began one of the great relationships of her life—with Mount Tamalpais in northern California. The mountain would become her confidante, friend and obsession for the next two decades, and it continues to figure prominently in her work even today. Commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 12, Mount Tamalpais (2015) is a work from a series of tapestries conceived in the 1970s that were inspired by the textures and colours of the Persian rugs of her childhood.
Her solo exhibitions include Writing Mountains, the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2015); Etel Adnan in All Her Dimensions, Mathaf, Doha (2014); Words and Places: Etel Adnan, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, USA (2013); Eileen Curtis Museum, Sausalito, USA (2007) and Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan (1998).
Etel Adnan’s work has been widely exhibited in national and international group exhibitions including the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); Rose, Centre Europeen D'Actions Artistiques Contemporaines, Strasbourg, France (2014); Tajreed, A Selection of Arab Abstract Art Part I 1908 – 1960, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait (2013); dOCUMENTA, Kassel, Germany (2012) and Nahar Mubarak (Blessed Day), The British Museum, London (2006).
In 2014, Adnan received the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. She was the recipient of the 2013 California Book Award for Poetry, the 2013 LAMBDA Literary Award for Poetry and the 2010 Arab American Book Award.
Born in Paris in 1925, she passed in 2021 in Paris.
Sharjah Biennial 12