Etel Adnan: Impossible Homecoming
Pera Museum presents Etel Adnan: Impossible Homecoming, an exhibition bringing together sixty years of work by the eponymous artist and poet.
Pera Museum presents Etel Adnan: Impossible Homecoming, an exhibition bringing together sixty years of work by the eponymous artist and poet. Curated by Serhan Ada and Simone Fattal, the exhibition reflects upon Adnan’s rich and hugely varied upbringing, career, and background as a poet, painter, playwright, journalist, and philosopher. Born in 1925, Adnan grew up in Beirut in a multilingual, multicultural, and multi-faith family and region. Having lived through wars and sociopolitical upheaval, the artist creates works that bear traces of her roots, yet display a thoughtful, playful sensitivity and vibrant joy.
Born to a Smyrian Greek mother and Ottoman officer born in Damascus, Adnan’s identity has been shaped by migration, exile and asylum. After studying in both France and the United States, she returned to Beirut in 1972 – “an exile from an exile”, as she described it. She has since lived between the three countries, beginning her career as an artist by exhibiting her paintings in art centres and galleries around San Francisco, and developing an interest in Leporellos (accordion-folded artist’s books) and tapestry weaving. She met Syrian artist Simone Fattal, co-curator of Impossible Homecoming, in Beirut, where they shared a studio.
Adnan begins every interview by speaking about her mother and father, which may be an indication of how intertwined her family’s past is with her own identity. When we take migration, exile, asylum, and the memory of a long-gone Beirut into consideration, each of Adnan’s artworks is opened up to a multitude of interpretations. As an artist who has “mastered more than one medium”, the retrospective exhibition showcases the breadth of Adnan’s creative practice. Characterised by vivid colours, simple forms, and a style that hovers on the horizon line between illustrative and abstract, the exhibition includes oil paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics, carpets, leporellos, and a film. Co-curator Serhan Ada considers the relationships between the various mediums: “Although we don’t always recognize it in disguise, poetry emerges before us out of other places. Etel’s essays seem to be just prose, but they are downright poetry, which has always been part of her paintings. And anyway, isn’t her entire visual opus a poem written in colours?” Simone Fattal adds to this, remarking ““Etel Adnan is a poet, a writer, a tapestry designer and a painter, and no single one of these facets is enough to do justice to her versatility. She has to be considered from all these aspects and they each need to be examined simultaneously.”
As the name of the exhibition implies, the location of the retrospective signifies a “bit of a homecoming” for Adnan, whose family held close ties to the city. Alongside the displayed works, visitors to the exhibition are able to listen to recorded interviews made with the artist at various points in her life. Etel Adnan’s work opens up a rich area of discovery and interpretation for the audience with her seasons, landscapes, signs, imaginary planets and satellites in the sky, and impressive energy.
Etel Adnan: Impossible Homecoming is on show at the Pera Museum until 8 August.
Images courtesy of the Pera Museum.