"Painting in Arabic":

Etel Adnan and the Invention of a New Language

  • Silvia Naef University of Geneva
Keywords: Arabic language, French language, Painting, poetry, Hurufiyya, Etel Adnan


This article deals with Etel Adnan’s complex and original relation with the Arabic language, and with her concern for the situation of wars and destruction in the Arab world. It tries to analyze how, by “painting in Arabic,” Adnan not only finds a solution to her linguistic quest, but also gives word to her political commitment to the region. And finally, “painting in Arabic” makes her one of the main representatives of the Hurufiyya movement, a fundamental modernist pictorial trend in the Arab world.

Author Biography

Silvia Naef, University of Geneva

Silvia Naef is a full professor, Arabic Studies Section, and director of the master program in Middle Eastern Studies (MAMO), Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva. She obtained her Ph.D. in 1993 with a thesis on modern art in the Arab world. She has taught in Tübingen, Basel and Toronto and has been a visiting professor in Sassari (Italy, 2012), the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris (2016), at Université St. Joseph, Beirut (2017) and a visiting researcher in Princeton (2003) and Göttingen (2013). Naef is a founding member of Manazir, Swiss Platform for the Study of Visual Arts, Architecture and Heritage in the MENA Region and Manazir Journal. Her research focusses on modern art, visual representations and images in the Arab and Islamic world; she is also interested in gender issues. She has been the principal investigator of the research project Other Modernities: Patrimony and Practices of Visual Expression Outside the West (2013-2017), funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Publications include À la recherche d’une modernité arabe (1996; Arabic 2008); Y a-t-il une question de l’image en Islam? (2015, several translations); Visual Modernity in the Arab World, Turkey and Iran: Reintroducing the ‘Missing Modern’, in Asiatische Studien/Etudes Asiatiques (2016, ed. with E. Helbig).

How to Cite
Naef, S. (2019). "Painting in Arabic":: Etel Adnan and the Invention of a New Language. Manazir Journal, 1, 14–22. https://doi.org/10.36950/manazir.2019.1.1.2