Lebanese-American painter-poet-novelist Etel Adnan (1925-2021) was interviewed by Gabriel Coxhead for the June 2018 issue of Apollo. I’m drawn to her work for how it mingles Arabic language, painting and poetry.
Quoting from the interview:
Perhaps most interesting, in terms of her parallel practices of art and writing, is the display’s focus on what she refers to as ‘leporellos’ – a term for a sort of pleat-folded, concertina-style book, typically many pages long. It’s a format she began experimenting with while living in California, after coming across leporellos in a Japanese store there… “The guy in the shop told me it was for putting photographs in! But when I saw it, I knew that what I wanted to do was write Arab poetry.”
She doesn’t mean, though, that she used the leporellos to write her own poetry – not initially, at least. She tells me how she was part of the generation in Lebanon who was taught only in French at school, and punished for speaking Arabic, while at home she spoke Turkish and Greek. So she never became fluent enough in Arabic to compose in it (her own poems tend to be composed in English). It was other contemporary Arabic writers, then, whose poetry she turned to for her leporello pieces – and what attracted her, besides each poems’ [sic] meaning, was the process of transcription itself. “The flexibility of the Arabic script excited me. In Arabic, you have greater freedom to manipulate writing, visually. You can stretch letters out, you can put one letter on top of another.” She also added watercolours, coiling delicate, washy patterns around the words or through them – turning the texts into visual art, essentially. “In this way I discovered that the act of writing is also an act of drawing.”
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