Educated in French schools in Lebanon, Adnan moved to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1955 she relocated to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies in philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard. From 1958 to 1972 she taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California as well as guest lecturing at many universities throughout the United States. Moving back to Beirut in 1972, she worked as the Cultural Editor for two daily newspapers, Al Safa and later for L’Orient le Jour. Publishing numerous books and volumes of poetry in several languages, 1977 saw Adnan’s novel, Sitt Marie-Rose receive the prestigious France-Pays Arabes award. This seminal novel has been translated into more than 10 languages, and is widely recognised as a classic of War Literature.
Having always been drawn to "the immediate beauty of colour", the artist’s early visual arts practice saw her create abstract paintings In the 1960s, Adnan began integrating Arabic calligraphy into her artworks, influenced by early Hurufiyya artists including Jawad Saleem and Shakir Hassa al Said.
A series of the artist's brightly coloured abstract paintings were exhibited as a part of the prestigious Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany in 2012. In 2014, a collection of the Adnan's paintings and tapestries were also exhibited as a part of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Adnan's retrospective at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar titled Etel Adnan In All Her Dimensions and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured eleven dimensions of Adnan's practice. The show opened in March 2014, accompanied by a 580-page catalog of her work that included six interviews with Obrist. Etel Adnan has lived between Sausalito, California and Paris since 1977.
Adnan’s work is included in many public and private collections, including Royal Jordanian Museum, Amman; Tunis Modern Art Museum, Tunis; Sursock Museum, Beirut; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; British Museum, London; World Bank Collection in Washington D.C; and The National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
*All images of works copyright Galerie Lelong.