Etel Adnan, photo by Simone Fattal, photo credits - artist

Etel Adnan

Lebanon 1925

Abstract Art, Painting

Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan
June 10, 2015
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Etel Adnan is a poetess, novelist, essayist and visual artist born in 1925, in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Muslim Syrian father and a Christian Greek mother.
After attending a Catholic convent run by French nuns in Beirut, Etel traveled to Paris where she received a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne. In January 1955 she moved to the United States to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Harvard University. From 1958 to 1972, Adnan taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California. She has also lectured at several universities throughout the USA. After returning to Lebanon in 1972, she worked as cultural editor for for two daily newspapers, first for Al Safa, then for L’Orient le Jour. She left the country in 1976.

Etel Adnan’s First Paintings

Though she grew up in a primarily Arabic-speaking society, French became the language in which her early work was first written, while most of her later work has been first written in English. Caught between languages, her interest in visual art developed during the years of the Algerian war of independence, when writing in French had political implications which the artist, out of solidarity with the rebels, refused to accept. She shifted the focus of her creative expression to visual art, and became a painter. Her first artworks date to 1958, at a time when Adnan had already moved to the Sausalito, a San Francisco Bay Area city in Marin County, California.
Although primarily a writer, Etel leaves her paintings untitled because she feels that the words might taint their innocence. Etel Adnan paints in oil paint with the canvas laid on a table, using a palette knife to apply the paint onto the canvas in firm swipes across the picture’s surface, often directly from the tube.

Etel Adnan - Untitled, 2014, photo credits Galerie Lelong, abstract landscape painting
Etel Adnan – Untitled, 2014, photo credits Galerie Lelong

Abstract Landscape Paintings

During her stay in Sausalito, Adnan began to focus on the surrounding landscape, inspired by the Mount Tamalpais, the highest peak overlooking San Francisco Bay which was visible from the windows of her home. The mountain became a permanent reference point which she depicted repeatedly in her paintings, capturing its ever changing moods and dynamic at different times of day, throughout the years. Over the years she has expressed her love for this mountain by dedicating books and poems to it, culminating with 1986 book, Journey to Mount Tamalpais, described as a meditation on the links between nature and art.

Etel Adnan - Untitled #2, 2014, photo credits Galerie Lelong, abstract landscape painting
Etel Adnan – Untitled #2, 2014, photo credits Galerie Lelong

Etel Adnan’s Leporellos and Tapestries

Alongside painting, since the 1960s, she has painted, drawn and made leporellos, pocket-sized fold-out books. The leporellos combine verbal and visual observation and are splendidly illustrated, filled with landscapes and transcriptions of Adnan’s own writing as well as of Arab poetry by writers such as Mahmoud Darwish and Yusuf al-Khal.
Etel Adnan also makes tapestries which translate the vivid colours of her paintings into wool. Many of her tapestries are in public spaces and private collections, including the Contemporary Crafts Museums of New York and Los Angeles.

A folding book (Leporellos) by Etel Adnan, photo credits - Gilded Birds
A folding book (Leporellos) by Etel Adnan, photo credits – Gilded Birds

Sitt Marie Rose

Etel Adnan retired from a permanent teaching position in the late 1970s and devoted herself to art and writing. A powerful voice in feminist and antiwar movements, Adnan has published many works of poetry and fiction, among which are The Arab Apocalypse, 1989, Of Cities and Women, Letters to Fawwaz, 1993, and Master of the Eclipse, 2009.
One of her most notable novels is Sitt Marie Rose, first published in 1977. Set in the civil war in Lebanon, the book deals in dramatic terms with the issue of religious and political integralism and the role of women in Lebanese society. Winner of the France-Pays Arabes prize in 1977, Sitt Marie Rose has been translated into more than 10 languages, becoming a classic of War Literature.

Other Works

In the late seventies, she wrote texts for two documentaries made by Jocelyne Saab, on the civil war in Lebanon, which were shown on French television as well as in Europe and Japan, and several theatre pieces, including Comme un arbre de Noël, and L’actrice. She worked on a film about Calamity Jane in collaboration with Delphine Seyring, and a musical work with her Love Poems.
Many of Adnan’s poems have been set to music, for example by Gavin Bryars Adnan Songbook and by Zad Moultaka Nepsis.


Etel Adnan has participated in numerous solo and group shows worldwide. Her work was recently presented in the solo exhibition Etel Adnan in All Her Dimensions at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar, 2014, and was included in the Whitney Biennial, New York, 2014, and Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, 2013. Etel Adnan’s had her first solo show in China at Galleria Continua Beijing in 2014.

Etel Adnan, installation view of her work at Documenta 13, 2012, photo courtesy of Galleria Continua
Etel Adnan, installation view of her work at Documenta 13, 2012, photo courtesy of Galleria Continua


Etel Adnan received many awards for her contribution to culture, including the Arab American Book Awards for Master of the Eclipse in 2010, the California Book Award for Poetry for her collection Sea and Fog in 2013, and RAWI Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radius of Arab-American Writers, among others. In 2014, Adnan received France’s highest cultural honour, the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
Etel Adnan has works in many notable private and public collections including the Royal Jordanian Museum, the Tunis Modern Art Museum, the Sursock Museum in Beirut, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the British Museum in London, the World Bank Collection in Washington D.C., the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., among others.

Etel Adnan lives and works between Paris, France and Sausalito, California.

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2015Etel AdnanWhite Cube Gallery, Hong KongSolo
2015Etel AdnanGalerie Lelong, New YorkSolo
2014Etel AdnanCallicoon Fine Arts, New York, New YorkSolo
2014Etel Adnan in All Her DimensionsMathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, DohaSolo
2014Whitney BiennialWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, New YorkGroup
2014Inside the White CubeWhite Cube, LondonSolo
2013Words and Places: Etel AdnanThe Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2013Etel AdnanGalleria Continua, Les Moulins, FranceSolo
2013Etel AdnanGalleria Continua, San Gimignano, ItalySolo
2013Etel AdnanGalerie Sfeir-Semler, Beirut, LebanonSolo
2013Calligraffiti: 1984 - 2013Leila Heller Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2012Etel AdnanCallicoon Fine Arts, New York, New YorkSolo
2012Etel AdnanGalerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg, GermanySolo
2012Documenta 13Kassel, GermanyGroup
2012The Art of FriendshipNew Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, ConnecticutGroup
2011The Last Grand TourMuseum of Cycladic Art, Athens, GreeceGroup
2010Etel AdnanGalerie Sfeir-Semler, Beirut, LebanonSolo
2010Etel AdnanEuropie Gallery, Paris, FranceSolo
2009Etel AdnanBonnafont Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2009TafsirMartin-Gropius-Bau Berlin, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2007Etel AdnanJanine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut, LebanonSolo
2007Etel AdnanEileen Curtis Museum, Sausalito, CaliforniaSolo
20075 ArtistsState Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, RussiaGroup
20075 ArtistsThe State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, RussiaGroup
2006Etel AdnanArte Mare, Bastia, CorsicaSolo
2006UnknownBritish Museum, London, United KingdomGroup
2004Etel AdnanJanine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut, LebanonSolo
2004UnknownPalacio Reale, Napoli, ItalyGroup
2003UnknownMusee Municipal de Thionville, Thionville, FranceGroup
2003UnknownJoerdxan National Gallery, Amman, JordanGroup
2001UnknownGalerie Claude Lemand, Paris, FranceGroup
2001L'art du Livre ArabeBibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, FranceGroup
2000Art ParisLe Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, FranceGroup
1999Etel AdnanJanine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut, LebanonSolo
1998Etel AdnanDarat al Funun, Amman, JordanSolo
1998Etel AdnanSalazar Gallery, University of California, Sonoma, CaliforniaSolo
1998UnknownBradford-Smock Gallery, San FranciscoGroup
1998London Artists' Book FairBarbican Center, London, United KingdomGroup
1997London Artists' Book FairBarbican Center, London, United KingdomGroup
1997UnknownBradford Gallery, San Anselmo, CaliforniaGroup
1997UnknownFine Arts Gallery, University of Arkansas, Lafayette, ArkansasGroup
1996Book Art VIIINational Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.Group
1996UnknownAndre Demedthuis, Wielsbeke, BelgiumGroup
1995UnknownChicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
1995UnknownInter-American Gallery, Dade Wolfson Campus, Miami, FlorideGroup
1995Le Arie del TempoStudio Alaya, Genoa, ItalyGroup
1994Forces of ChangeNational Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.Group
19944 Women ArtistsAlif Gallery, Washington, D.C.Group
1994UnknownGalerie de Paperbusse, Ostende, BelgiumGroup
1994Harelbeke DemedthuisWielsbeke, BelgiumGroup
1993Andre DemedthuisWielsbeke, BelgiumGroup
1993UnknownGalerie Natkin-Berta, Paris, FranceGroup
1992Etel AdnanGallery 50x70, Beirut, LebanonSolo
1991UnknownInstitut du Monde Arabe, Paris, FranceGroup
199120 ans20 artistes L'Atelier, Rabat, MoroccoGroup
1991UnescoParis, FranceGroup
1990Etel AdnanKufa Gallery, London, United KingdomSolo
1990Evenements urbainsGrenoble, FranceGroup
1990Villa CroceGenoa, ItalyGroup
1989Etel AdnanSalazar Library, University of California, Sonoma, CaliforniaSolo
1988Etel AdnanAdministration Building, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1987Etel AdnanSamy Kinge Gallery, Paris, FranceSolo
1986Etel AdnanMarin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CaliforniaSolo
1985Etel AdnanPerception Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1983Etel AdnanAlif Gallery, Washington, D.C.Solo
1983Etel AdnanPerception Gallery, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1982Etel AdnanAl Sultan Gallery, KuwaitSolo
1979Asilah FestivalMoroccoSolo
1978Etel AdnanGalerie L'Atelier, Rabat, MoroccoSolo
1977Etel AdnanGalerie La Roue, Paris, FranceSolo
1973Etel AdnanDar el Fan, Beirut, LebanonSolo
1971Sight & Insightthe Cannery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1969Etel AdnanDominican College Gallery, San Rafael, CaliforniaSolo
1969Etel AdnanUnitarian Center, San Rafael, CaliforniaSolo
1965Etel AdnanMount Angel College Gallery, Mount Angel, OregonSolo
1965Etel AdnanKaramanduca Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1964Etel AdnanKaramanduca Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1963Etel AdnanDominican College Gallery, San Rafael, CaliforniaSolo
1961Etel AdnanO'Hanlon Gallery, Mill Valley, CaliforniaSolo