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Ithra opens first exhibition for late US-Lebanese artist Etel Adnan in Saudi Arabia 

DUBAI: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) on Friday opened a retrospective exhibition titled “Etel Adnan, Between East and West.”

It showcases the works of late Lebanese-American poet, artist and philosopher Etel Adnan, one of the region’s most renowned contemporary artists. 

Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father, the poet is most famous for her 1977 novel “Sitt Marie Rose,” about the Lebanese civil war. (Supplied)

This is the first solo exhibition of Adnan’s work in Saudi Arabia, and will be open until June 30. 

Curated by Sebastien Delot, formerly director of France’s Lille Metropole Musee d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, the exhibition presents Adnan’s creative journey across all periods and mediums of her diverse career. 

Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2010. (Supplied)

It not only unveils the profound connection Adnan shared with the Arab world, culture and language, but also highlights how she skilfully harnessed her creativity to seamlessly blend her Eastern and Western cultural influences.

The exhibition displays 41 of her works from the beginning of her artistic career in the late 1950s through to her final creations in 2021 before her death. 

Etel Adnan, “Untitled,” 2013. (Supplied)

Some of these artworks were lent from institutions around the world such as the Sharjah Art Foundation, the Sfeir-Semler Gallery and the Sursock Museum, as well as private collectors. 

The exhibition opens with a 25 sq. meter ceramic mural followed by a screening of “Motion,” which is a montage of several Super 8 films made by Adnan in Yosemite, New York and San Francisco in the 1980s.

Among the showcased works are her iconic hand-woven wool tapestries inspired by Persian rugs of her childhood and the Arab tradition of woven craft, where threads interlace to create vibrant stories suspended in time and to reflect the artist’s mastery in color as language. Also included is a wide array of oil and watercolor pieces. 

“Etel Adnan Between East and West,” Ithra Center, 2024. (Supplied)

The head of museum at Ithra, Farah Abushullaih, said the exhibition “presents a wonderful opportunity to spotlight Etel Adnan, a key figure in global contemporary art, whose identity and work are deeply rooted in the Arab world and its rich heritage. 

“As a versatile artist, Adnan seamlessly navigated between the realms of written and visual arts, with Arabic scripture acting as a bridge between the two, a motif that Adnan was particularly drawn to.”

Abushullaih added: “Through this exhibition, Ithra continues its commitment to introduce significant artists to Saudi audiences, shedding light on their impactful artistic contributions, further inspiring and invigorating the Kingdom’s creative landscape.”

Etel Adnan, La Ronde des Oiseaux, 2019. (Supplied)

Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father, the poet is most famous for her 1977 novel “Sitt Marie Rose,” about the Lebanese civil war.

It won the France-Pays Arabes award and became a classic of war literature, so much so that it is taught in American classrooms. 

Adnan’s most recent honor was in 2020. Her poetry collection “Time,” which is a selection of her work — translated from French by Sarah Riggs — won the Griffin Poetry Prize. 

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