Maliheh Afnan's (b.1935 Palestine - 2016, UK), work transcends and absorbs cultural references. Born in Haifa, Palestine to Persian parents, she subsequently pursued her studies first in Beirut and then Washington DC. She then travelled to Europe, residing in Paris for more than twenty years before eventually settling in London, where she remained until her death. Calligraphy and the written word play an important role in her work: images appear that suggest the written word. Her works on paper and her tablets of painted plaster are reminiscent of ancient, almost obliterated texts, and like palimpsests, retain only some vestige of literal meaning and an impression of human contact.
Afnan absorbed both Middle Eastern and Western influences. She looked towards such artists as Pollock, Rothko, Dubuffet and Klee, and shared an affinity with the American artist Mark Tobey, who helped to arrange the first European exhibition of her work in 1971.
Afnan's work has been described as appearing 'as a relic of an older civilization or an archaeological excavation into the collective psyche... The delicacy of Persian miniatures and manuscripts, which she remembers from childhood, is mirrored in her love for intimate scale and the refined beauty of muted colour.'
In the artist's own words 'my work is rooted in memory, both my own and a more distant, perhaps collective one. I unconsciously but continually refer to places, scripts, faces from the past both real and imagined... (...) Often the source of these lines stem from scripts - scripts of all kinds, even invented ones... 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.'
Afnan's notable solo exhibitions include: Personnages, Man Museo D'arte Provincia Di Nuoro, Sardinia, 2019; Tracing Memories, Art Dubai Modern, 2016; Speak Memory, Rose Issa Projects, London, 2013; Traces, Faces, Places, Rose Issa Projects, London, 2010; Selected Works, England and Co, London, 2006; Maliheh Afnan: Retrospective, England and Co, London, 2000; and And Presented by Mark Tobey, Galerie Claire Brambach, Basel, Switzerland, 1971. She has also exhibited at Galerie Mouvances, Paris, 1996; Théâtre de Beyrouth, Beirut, 1994; Galerie 10 Bonaparte, Paris, 1994; Galerie Arcadia, Paris, 1987; A&A Turner Galerie, Paris, 1982; Galerie Brigitte Schehadé, Paris and Galerie Principe-Anne Merlet, Paris,1978.
Select group shows include Asemic, Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Brugge, 2014; The Blue Route: Journeys and Beauty from the Mediterranean to China, Boghossian Foundation, Brussels, 2013; Hope Map, Cuulturcentrum, Bruges, 2013; The Art of Writing, Kurhaus Kolonnade, Wiesbaden, 2011; Zendegi: Twelve Contemporary Iranian Artists , Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, 2011; Miragens, touring exhibition at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia, Brazil, 2011; Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, UK, 2010; Taswir: Pictorial Mappings of Islam and Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, Berlin, 2009; Re-Orientations: Contemporary Arab Representations, European Parliament, Brussels, 2008; Routes, Waterhouse & Dodd, London, 2008; Word into Art, Dubai, 2008; The Dance of Pen and Ink, The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow and The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2007; Routes, the British Museum, London,2006; Iranian Contemporary Art, Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre, London, 2001; Salon d’Automne, Thorigny-Sur-Marne, France, 1994; Collecting 20th-Century Art, The British Museum, London, 1991; and Painting and Sculpture at the End of the 20th Century, European Cultural Centre of Delphi, 1988.
Afnan’s work belongs to prestigious public collections, including the Written Art Collection, Germany; The Metropolitan Museum, New York; The British Museum, London; the Institut du Monde Arabe, and the Barjeel Art Collection, Sharjah.