Etel Adnan, “Weeping Tree,” 2017, Digital Print, 300 × 200 cm. Shanghai Himalayas Museum installation view, 2017


As a literal depiction of the pain we are inflicting on Earth, Etel Adnan’s “Weeping Tree” renders nature’s response to the destruction human beings have wrought on the planet. The artist’s loose and sweeping brushstrokes are abstract and heavy with emotion, burdened by humankind’s dismissal of the tree’s plight.

Adnan is a poet, essayist, and visual artist known as a powerful voice in feminist and anti-war movements, as well as contemporary Arab-American culture. A multi-linguist who has had a nomadic existence, Adnan makes work that traverses cultures and disciplines, drawing its inspiration from a deep engagement with the world. Her poetry incorporates surrealist imagery and powerful metaphorical leaps, infused with language-based and formal experimentation that uses unexpected techniques, to address the nature of exile and political, social, and gender-based injustice.

While living in California from 1958 to 1972 and teaching philosophy, based on her connective feelings to, and solidarity with the Algerian War of Independence, Etel Adnan began to resist the political implications of writing in French and shifted the focus of her creative expression to visual art.

Etel Adnan was born in Beirut in 1925. Her mother was a Greek from Smyrna, in Turkey, and her father was a top officer of the Ottoman Empire, born in Damascus. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, France, then in Berkeley, and at Harvard University. She taught philosophy in California for fourteen years, and then spent her time writing and painting. Her poetry has been translated in many languages, and put to music by many composers, such as Gavin Bryars, Henry Threadgill, Zad Multaka, and Ben Ching Lam. Adnan has had many shows, with works in major museums. She is considered an important Arab-American artist. In recent years she has resided in Paris, France.