Etel Adnan (1925 – Present) was born on the 24th February, 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon attending Lebanese French convent schools until she was eighteen. At 24, Adnan studied Philosophy at the University of Paris, and continued on to the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University to pursue graduate studies. From 1952 – 1978, Adnan taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael. Adnan worked as a journalist in Beirut from 1978, helping to build the cultural section of the Al-Safa paper, contributing her own cartoons and illustrations.
In the 1960s, Adnan became well known for integrating Arabic calligraphy into her artworks and books. Her art is inspired by early hurufiyya artists and Japanese leporellos, both schools rejecting what Adnan termed “Western aesthetics” and instead situating traditional culture, media and techniques within a rapidly modernizing world. In 2014, a collection of Adnan’s paintings and tapestries were exhibited as a part of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Adnan’s retrospective at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha was met with huge popular success. In 2017, Adnan’s work was included in MoMA’s Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction. In 2018, MASS MoCA held a retrospective titled A yellow sun A green sun a yellow sun A red sun a blue sun including her paintings and written works, exploring how reading poetry is a different receptive medium to looking at a painting. The overlap of the two mediums and an investigation into their differences was a life-long interest for Adnan, writing the first livre d’artiste in 1960 and creating over two hundred of what she termed “artist books.”
Adnan has been the recipient of a plethora of awards for both visual art and writing, including the 1977 France-Payes Arabes award, the 2010 Arab American Book awards, the 2013 California Book award for Poetry, the 2013 Lambda Literary Award, being named the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2014 and receiving the RAWI Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radius of Arab-American Writers.
Adnan has an international profile, featuring in numerous collections including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. and the British Museum in London.