Etel Adnan: In all her Dimensions

New Mathaf exhibition looks back at Lebanese artist's storied career Discuss this article

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After over six years of conversations with artist Etel Adnan, ‘In All Her Dimensions’, the latest show taking place at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, has launched. Thomas Spink speaks with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is not only an influential Swiss curator who has been recognised as one of the most powerful figures in the art world, he’s also a good friend of American-Lebanese artist Etel Adnan, the subject of Mathaf’s current exhibition, making him the perfect candidate to curate her largest solo showcase to date.

Following six years of meetings and conversations between Hans and Etel, ‘In All Her Dimensions’ takes the onlooker on a journey through the artist’s prolific career that spans sculptures to poems, writings to tapestry. Now in her 80s, Etel has influenced lives from Europe to America and now she’s reaching out to the Middle East.

Hans takes time out of his busy curatorial schedule to tell us more about the artist and writer who’s been cited as ‘arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab-American author writing today.’

What is ‘Etel Adnan: In All Her Dimensions’ all about?
Etel Adnan is a very diverse artist and no one has showcased the many dimensions of her work before. It was about time that a show was put on displaying a full retrospective of her artistic career. For me, it was crucial to show Etel’s cartography, drawings, films, leporellos, notebooks, novels, paintings, plays, poems, tapestries and her most recent works – the sculptures – together in one space.

This is Etel’s largest ever solo exhibition. How does it feel to have curated it?
I’m just excited to see the many dimensions of Etel’s work together in once place. Having work on show is something that is very important to Etel as she feels that she can humanise the environment. For Etel, a public exhibition is democratic – it allows everyone the chance to have their spirit uplifted.

How long have you known Etel?
The very first work I saw of Etel’s was a long Japanese folding book with handwritten poems and signs. I was fascinated and wanted to know more so I visited her in Paris for the first time in 2007. We quickly became friends and started to record long conversations. Almost 200 pages of recorded conversations are the origin of this exhibition.

The exhibition shows Etel’s works in a very diverse way. What did you want to achieve?
Etel once told me, ‘You know, there is something that links all different things. It is what we call our person. There is a link, it’s just there, it’s your sensitivity, it’s your identity... It’s one person in different rooms.’ This is what I wanted to showcase.

How long did the project take to complete overall?
Preparation for the exhibition took more than a year, but that comes from six years of conversations being broken down and put on public display. Etel’s artistic and literary oeuvre is extensive, so you can imagine that it wasn’t an easy process to digest, combine and exhibit pieces from across her career.

Mathaf has been host to many thought-provoking exhibitions in Qatar. How does Etel fit in and how important is this exhibition for the Middle East?
The work in this exhibition spans over 50 years and aims to provide audiences with a deeper understanding of her oeuvre. It is very important for Qatar to host such an exhibition, to allow people in the Middle East to see it. To date, Etel has had an important impact in Europe and the United States, on people ranging from architects to poets. It is about time she influenced people from the Middle East too.

Which pieces are your personal favourites?
With 160 works on show at Mathaf, it is hard to decide on one that is my personal favourite. Etel is now in her late 80s but her recent work is so astonishing, so full of life and energy. I am always struck by the amazing intensity and optimism of her work. Her recent paintings show so much liveliness and courage.

What does the publication that was printed as part of the exhibition reveal on top of everything else we can find?
With so many dimensions of Etel, and with such a huge exhibition, there was a need for a big publication to house all of this information. It includes the infinite conversations I had with Etel, plus many texts by [her]. Other contributors include Abdellah Karroum, Simone Fattal, Daniel Birnbaum, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie and Shraddha Aryal who provide a significant insight into the art, writings and thinking of Etel.
‘Etel Adnan: In All Her Dimensions’ is on show at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art until July 6. Education City, off Al Luqta Street (4402 8855).

By Time Out Doha staff
Time Out Doha,

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