You must first login or register to follow this artist.

(1935 – 2016), Palestinian Territory

Maliheh Afnan Biography

Regarded as one of the most significant Middle-Eastern artists of the 20th century, Maliheh Afnan is known for her self-described 'written paintings' which reflect upon her Palestinian heritage, as well as themes of displacement, exile and migration in relation to geopolitical conflict.

Read More

Afnan was born in Haifa to Iranian parents. Seeking refuge from the war in Palestine, Afnan and her family moved to Beirut in 1949. She gained a BA from the American University of Beirut in 1955, and in the following year moved to the United States to pursue further study in art. In 1962, Afnan graduated with an MA in Fine Arts from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Following her graduation, Afnan spent time travelling and lived in Kuwait, Beirut, and Paris from the 1960s through to the 1990s. During these years, Lebanon's Civil War forced Afnan to move from Beirut to Paris. In 1997 Afnan moved to London, where she lived until her death in 2016.

Maliheh Afnan Artworks

Afnan's works possess a poetic sensitivity evidenced in their intimate scale, subdued natural tones, meditative mark-making and use of delicate materials such as gauze and paper. Influenced by historic and cultural sources including Persian miniatures, Persian and Arabic calligraphy and ancient manuscripts, Afnan references the visual language of these artefacts in reinterpretations of personal histories and material exploration.

Early Works

After completing her MA in Washington, Afnan sought the tutelage of American abstract painter Mark Tobey, who mentored Afnan and was instrumental in organising her first exhibition in Europe in 1971. Tobey's approach to painting is visibly reflected in Afnan's practice, with works such as Untitled (1969) and Wartorn (1979) constructed with dense, expressive marks in cool, restrained palettes. Similarly, Silent Witness (1979) is comprised of ghostly abstract forms sprawling across the corrugated cardboard surface in the 'all-over painting' style Tobey was associated with.

Afnan was driven by a spontaneous, intuitive process, often beginning with a line and subsequently allowing her subconscious to guide the image, along with the materiality of her medium—whether ink, gouache, oil stick, pencil or collage. She has stated: 'Often the source of these lines stem from scripts—scripts of all kinds, even invented ones... At times landscapes emerge instead, or faces. In a way I find I "write" my painting. I add pigment, layer over layer, which I rub in with my fingers, working it until it assumes its patina. If all of one's life is registered in the recesses of the unconscious, then one's work might simply be an unravelling, filtered and transformed through time and the need to give it form... the process eludes me, and retains its mystery.'

Figurative Works and Personnages

Alongside abstract works, Maliheh Afnan produced portraits and figurative works, which she describes as, 'anonymous figments of my imagination, based on all the faces I have seen in my life. Curiously, they are all male and almost always old. They seem to wear a map of their lives on their faces.' Rendered as simplified pale sketches, their faces share the same ambiguous expression—a vacant, sorrowful gaze, as seen in The Founder (1990) and Eminence Grise II (1995).

In 2019, an exhibition of Afnan's work titled Personnages was presented at the MAN_Museo d'Arte Provincia di Nuoro in Italy. Bringing together years of the artist's figurative Personnages series, the collection examined ideas of diasporic identity and displacement.

Later Practice

Afnan's later works show an increasing use of textile collage and distinctive abstract calligraphy. In Nothing to Declare (2007), the image of a suitcase is formed through the piecing together of strips of gauze; in Veiled Nonsense (2009), a sheet of endless illegible lines of ink script is overlaid with a piece of gauze.

Afnan's acclaimed Veiled series was started after 9/11, as international media attention on hijabs escalated. Symbolically using gauze to represent 'veiling' as 'concealing'—of truth, agendas, emotions and other subjects, Afnan composes tensions between visibility and erasure; truth and fiction; expression and suppression.

The typically smaller scale of the Veiled works encourages an intimate viewing proximity in order to recognise the proliferation of details and imagined cursive script within her compositions, which can at first appear as fine abstract marks. Evocative of palimpsests or wax tablets, which are worked and reworked to bear new texts with traces of previous workings visible, Afnan's paintings seek to reflect upon experiences from the artist's conflict-laden migratory life. The parchment-like treatment of the paper recalls ancient scrolls and manuscripts; Afnan's contemporary iterations can be seen as symbolic of dispossession or exile.

Publications

Afnan's practice is the subject of numerous books, including Maliheh Afnan: Traces, Faces and Places (2010) and Familiar Faces (2013).

Exhibitions

Maliheh Afnan has presented in solo and group exhibitions internationally since the 1960s.

Select solo exhibitions include Personnages, MAN_Museo d'Arte Provincia di Nuoro, Sardinia (2019); Tracing Memories, Art Dubai Modern, Dubai (2016); Tonight, the Door Towards Words Will be Opened, Galerie Kornfeld, Berlin (2014); Speak Memory, Rose Issa Projects, London (2013); Traces, Faces, Places, Rose Issa Projects, London (2010); Selected Works 1960-2006, England & Co, London (2006); Maliheh Afnan: Retrospective, England & Co, London (2000).

Select group exhibitions include Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, Grey Art Gallery, New York (2020); The symmetry of fragility, Fondazione ICA Milano, Milan (2020); A la plume, au pinceau, au crayon: dessins du monde Arabe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (2019); A Century in Flux, Sharjah Art Museum, UAE (2018-19); Abu Dhabi Art, with Lawrie Shabibi, Abu Dhabi (2015); Cologne Fine Art, with Galerie Kornfeld, Cologne (2015); Paper Plains, Galerie Kornfeld, Berlin (2014); Asemic, Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Bruges (2014); The Blue Route: Journeys and Beauty from the Mediterranean to China, Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2013); Hope Map, Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Bruges (2013).

Collections

Afnan's work is held in major international collections including the Written Art Foundation, Frankfurt; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The British Museum, London; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; and the Akram Ojjeh Foundation, Paris.

Misong Kim | Ocula | 2022

Maliheh Afnan
featured artworks

Untitled by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting
Maliheh Afnan Untitled, 2023 Ink and watercolours on paper
19.5 x 22.5 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Request Price & Availability
Manuscript by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting
Maliheh Afnan Manuscript, 2006 Ink and watercolours on paper
20.5 x 23.5 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Request Price & Availability
Memory by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting
Maliheh Afnan Memory, 2014 Ink and watercolours on paper
43 x 66 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Request Price & Availability
Veiled Havoc by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Maliheh Afnan Veiled Havoc, 2010 Ink and gauze on paper
68 x 84 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Request Price & Availability
Lost City by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Maliheh Afnan Lost City, 1987 Mixed media on paper
40 x 46 cm
Sold
Lawrie Shabibi
Untitled by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, print
Maliheh Afnan Untitled, 1969 Collage on rice paper
38.5 x 54 cm
Sold
Lawrie Shabibi
Eminence Grise II by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Maliheh Afnan Eminence Grise II, 1995 Oil pastel on paper
18 x 16 cm
Sold
Lawrie Shabibi
Veiled Nonsense by Maliheh Afnan contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Maliheh Afnan Veiled Nonsense, 2009 Ink and gauze on paper
61 x 81 cm
Sold
Lawrie Shabibi

Maliheh Afnan
recent exhibition

Learn more about the market for works
by Maliheh Afnan.
Enquire for a confidential discussion. Enquire Now
Simon Fisher, Ocula CEO
Ocula Advisor
Simon Fisher
Christoper Taylor, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Christopher Taylor
Eva Fuchs, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Eva Fuchs
Rory Mitchell, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Rory Mitchell
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Follow Maliheh Afnan
Stay ahead.
Receive updates on new artworks,
exhibitions and articles.
Your personal data is held in accordance with our privacy policy.
Follow
Do you have an Ocula account?
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Get Access
Join Ocula to request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Do you have an Ocula account? Login
What best describes your interest in art?

Subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming exhibitions, available works, events and more.
By clicking Sign Up or Continue with Facebook or Google, you agree to Ocula's Terms & Conditions. Your personal data is held in accordance with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you for joining us. Just one more thing...
Soon you will receive an email asking you to complete registration. If you do not receive it then you can check and edit the email address you entered.
Close
Thank you for joining us.
You can now request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Close
Welcome back to Ocula
Enter your email address and password below to login.
Reset Password
Enter your email address to receive a password reset link.
Reset Link Sent
We have sent you an email containing a link to reset your password. Simply click the link and enter your new password to complete this process.
Login