Lawrie Shabibi's second participation at Art Dubai Modern brings together seminal works from the 1960s to 1980s by Maliheh Afnan, with several distinct phases represented that show the transformation of her practice after the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, subsequent move to Paris and her long residency there.
Afnan's work is in essence about memory. Born at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East, Afnan has looked back and moved forward through the chaos of contemporary art history to discover what endures. Of Persian origin and born in Haifa, Palestine, in 1935, Afnan has long known what it is to be an outsider. War overshadowed her life and undoubtedly shaped her outlook. She remembers the air raids on Haifa during the Second World War, at the time under British Mandate, then the Arab-Israeli wars and later many wars in Lebanon. Her modest, understated art reflects on what it means to survive and create within a system that until recently has placed artists from the Middle East on the periphery. Through the mesmerizing layers, overlapping patterns, glyphs and figures in her paintings, she distances herself from the superficial, leaving a sense of what it means to live in other times, in different places. Always working on paper, calligraphy and archaeology are her main sources. Indeed, her works often seem themselves archaeological, as if they have been excavated from a long-forgotten site.
Afnan was born in 1935 to Persian parents in Haifa, Palestine, where she lived until 1949. Her family then moved to Beirut, where she went to high school and later graduated with a BA from the American University of Beirut in 1955. In 1956 she moved to Washington DC, where she graduated with an MA in Fine Arts at the Corcoran School of Art (1962). From 1963-66 she lived in Kuwait and then returned to Beirut, where she lived until 1974. She spent the following 23 years in Paris, where she had numerous exhibitions, before settling in London in 1997.
Afnan's work is in several public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum, New York; The British Museum, London; and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Akkram Ojjeh Foundation and BAII Bank Collection, all in Paris. She has also featured in several publications, most recently Familiar Faces (2013, Rose Issa Projects) and Maliheh Afnan: Traces, Faces, Places (2010, Al Saqi Books & Beyond Art Productions).
She passed away in London in January 2016.