In the last book she published while alive, Shifting The Silence, writer and multi-disciplinary artist Etel Adnan declares: “I am not in a hurry to live, I am not in a hurry to die; I am just talking to you.”
The stream of consciousness that flows throughout the intimate prose of the publication is one that collapses together the looming uncertainty of death with the calm simplicity of living the everyday. Etel Adnan would pass away at the age of 96 last week, on a plain Parisian Monday, the news revealed to the world by her longtime partner Simone Fattal. She leaves a passionate career in her wake, a life that meshed together politically-forward journalism with free-thinking poetry and later on, the interdisciplinary commingling of visual art in the form of paintings, leporellos, and tapestries.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1925, Adnan left her homeland at the age of 24 to study philosophy at La Sorbonne in Paris France, later earning her degree and relocating to the United States in 1955 to pursue post-graduate studies at the University of California — Berkeley and Harvard University. Evolving from student to professor, she would soon teach at the Dominican College in San Rafael, California for fourteen years. While teaching philosophy in San Rafael, the turbulence of the Algerian War led Adnan to the creative medium of painting when she chose to symbolically renounce writing in French for the art of “painting in Arabic.”
Poetry would not captivate her until the Vietnam War shattered television screens everywhere with its horrid violence, and she thus began returning to poetic forms in English, officially regarding herself as an “American poet.” Migrating back home to Beirut in 1972, Adnan became the cultural editor and journalist for two daily newspapers, Al-Safa and L’Orient le Jour. Returning to her native French language that she had earlier shunned, she actively engaged in shaping the cultural landscape and political critique found within both publications. The Lebanese Civil War would soon hit her birthland, leading her to re-establish ideals of home in both Sausalito (CA) and Paris with her partner Simone for the remainder of her life.
Adnan gained literary recognition early on in her career (beginning with the France-Pays Arabes Award for her 1977 novel, Sitt Marie Rose). But recognition of her visual arts practice would not occur until she was well in her eighties when, in 2010, her work was included in a solo exhibition titled Etel Adnan, Paintings and Drawings at Beirut’s esteemed Sfeir-Semler Gallery. This exhibition caught the attention of notable curatorial eyes, leading to her being featured in a 2012 group exhibition at dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. With numerous solo and group gallery and museum exhibitions to follow soon after, her market value rose. Ever since, Adnan has been recognized as a major figure in contemporary art. She was an artist capable of flittering and teetering between conversations of exile and displacement, as well as one’s relationship with varying natural environments; someone who spoke simply of the human condition.
There’s a special poignance when an artist passes while an exhibition of their life’s work is currently on display for the public to bemuse and contemplate, make their own criticisms, and form their own opinions on the artist’s life and work. While visiting a dear friend from college who now calls Brooklyn their home, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened “Etel Adnan’s: Light New Measure” exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum with FF2 Media’s Editor-In-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner. I will publish my review of the exhibition shortly. However, for now, I wish to honor Adnan and the powerhouse nature she maintained throughout her entire life, amidst internal and external turbulence, with a moment shared with Jan while in the Aye Simon Reading Room of the Guggenheim.
With Adnan’s literature set before us at a table we shared with two strangers, a tactile prompt asked those who wished to participate: “Copy a poem from one of the books in the room and leave it for someone else, feel free to add, to embellish, or illustrate your chosen poem, or read it aloud.”
While Jan and I chose different excerpts, we agreed on the haunting resonance of one verse from Adnan’s 2011 book-length essay titled The Cost For Love We Are Not Willing To Pay, which echoes the lasting effect of the artist’s grounding words and ethereal visions: “Went to the moon…Planet Earth is old news. It’s the house we are discarding. We definitely don’t love her.”
Rest passionately, Etel 🕊️
© Isabella Marie Garcia (11/22/21) Special for FF2 Media
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Details of Etel Adnan’s Work In “Etel Adnan’s: Light New Measure” at the Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York | Photographs by Isabella Marie Garcia.
Photos of Etal Adnan’s “Untitled1962+1963” (top left) and the quote from “The Cost For Love We Are Not Willing To Pay” (above) were taken at the Guggenheim Museum by Jan Lisa Huttner (10/14/21).