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Ithra's Exhibition: Celebrating the Legacy of Etel Adnan in Saudi Arabia

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) launched a retrospective exhibition, "Etel Adnan, Between East and West," marking a significant cultural event. Celebrating the late Lebanese-American poet, artist, and philosopher's diverse talents, it's her first solo exhibition in Saudi Arabia, offering a unique chance to explore her work until June 30.

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Curated by Sebastien Delot, former director of France’s Lille Metropole Musee d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, the exhibition meticulously traces Adnan’s artistic evolution across various periods and mediums throughout her illustrious career. It not only illuminates the profound affinity Adnan held with Arab culture and language but also underscores her adeptness in harmoniously blending Eastern and Western influences within her creations.

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The exhibition, which includes 41 works from the late 1950s to 2021, features pieces from private collectors as well as works by Adnan that have been borrowed from prestigious institutions across the globe, including the Sursock Museum, the Sfeir-Semler Gallery, and the Sharjah Art Foundation. The display commences with a monumental 25 sq. meter ceramic mural, setting the tone for a journey through Adnan’s artistic universe, complemented by a screening of “Motion,” a compilation of Super 8 films capturing her experiences in Yosemite, New York, and San Francisco during the 1980s.

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Among the highlights are Adnan’s iconic hand-woven wool tapestries, inspired by Persian rugs and the rich tradition of Arab weaving, serving as visual narratives encapsulating vibrant stories and showcasing the artist’s adeptness in utilizing color as a form of language. The exhibition also features an extensive collection of her oil and watercolor paintings, offering a comprehensive insight into her artistic prowess.

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Farah Abushullaih, Head of the Museum at Ithra, emphasized the significance of highlighting Adnan’s contributions to global contemporary art, particularly her close ties to the Arab world and its cultural legacy. Abushullaih underscored Adnan's ease in moving between writing and visual arts, stressing the importance of Arabic script as a key element in her creative expression.

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Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father, Adnan gained widespread acclaim for her 1977 novel “Sitt Marie Rose,” a poignant portrayal of the Lebanese civil war, which earned her the prestigious France-Pays Arabes award and solidified her status as a literary luminary. Adnan’s recent accolade includes the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize for her poetry collection “Time,” translated from French by Sarah Riggs, further cementing her legacy as a trailblazer in literature and visual arts alike. Through this exhibition, Ithra reaffirms its commitment to introducing seminal artists to Saudi audiences, enriching the Kingdom’s cultural landscape and fostering a vibrant creative community.

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