Etel Adnan is a philosopher, poet, writer and artist. Having lived in Lebanon, America and France, Adnan has worked with subjects such as conflict, belief and the human condition. Adnan’s practice as a visual artist, specifically her ‘leporello’ folded-paper works, combines text with vivid imagery. Floating between sculpture and painting, poetry and image, these works defy easy categorisation.

The work Mahmoud Darwish is named after the renowned Palestinian national poet. Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008), who considered the city of Haifa his home, but was banned from reentering Israel after joining the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), reflected on occupation and exile in his writings. Though opposed to the actions of the Israeli state, he believed in reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, due to their deep historical connections. Adnan uses Darwish’s poem I See What I Want (1990) on this leporello, which describes the desire to define one’s own perception of the world.

Kalimat, the title of another of Adnan’s works on display, means ‘words’ or ‘sentence’ in Arabic. Spread across the leporello we find singular words in Arabic such as Tongue, Moon, Words, Poet, Eye, Crystal, Oil, House, Trees, Day, Light and River, with no fixed narrative. In the Islamic world, religious scripture is considered the actual word of Allah, rather than a historical account or interpretation by human hands. Adnan’s text-based artworks reflect on the transition from God’s will to self-will, a key facet of secularisation, allowing language to have its own life and a fluidity of meaning.

The work Freedom of People, Freedom of Animals, Freedom of Plants, Freedom of Nature repeats in Arabic the phrases of the title in different orders. By repeating the word ‘Freedom’, the work poses a holistic understanding of humanity as part of the natural world.

Etel Adnan lives and works in Paris.
The works are presented at Röda Sten Konsthall.

Supported by The French Institute in Sweden

Freedom of People, Freedom of Animals, Freedom of Plants, Freedom of Nature, Mahmoud Darwish and Kalimat II, installation view WheredoIendandyoubegin – On Secularity, Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 2017, Röda Sten Konsthall. Photo Hendrik Zeitler.