Etel Adnan, poet, writer and painter, was born in 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris and in January 1955 went to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies in philosophy at University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard.
From her early poems which addressed the Vietnam War, to her award-winning 1978 novel Sitt Marie-Rose set during the Lebanese Civil War, Adnan explores the political and personal dimensions of violence and exile from familiar landscapes and languages. Adnan started painting in the early 1960s, a move that was prompted, in part, by her decision to stop writing in French following the Algerian War.
Adnan paints in oil with the canvas laid on a table, using a palette knife to apply the paint in firm swipes across the surface. Her works are suggestive of landscapes and include forms that reference specific places. In the 1970s she moved to California, near Mount Tamalpais, which became the central subject matter of numerous paintings and poems. Her most recent work is painted from memory. Adnan also makes tapestries, inspired by the Persian rugs of her childhood, and leporellos, pocket-sized books that unfold to several metres long, in which she mixes drawing with writing and poetry.
In 2012, Adnan was included in Documenta 13 in Germany. Since then numerous museums have presented solo exhibitions of her work, including Guggenheim, New York; Pera Museum, Istanbul; MUDAM (2021), Luxembourg (2019); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (2018); Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (2017); Serpentine Galleries, London (2016); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2016); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2015) and Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2014).
Her work is held in collections all over the world including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; British Museum, London; Mathaf, Doha; Royal Jordanian Museum; Tunis Modern Art Museum; Sursock Museum, Beirut; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
In 2014, Adnan was awarded France's highest cultural honour, the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
Etel Adnan lives and works in Paris, France.