Personnages is the first museum retrospective dedicated to the French-Palestinian artist Maliheh Afnan (Haifa, 1935 – London, 2016). Despite not yet being well known to the public, during five decades of intense activity Afnan was a diasporic witness to the events and destinies that made their mark on the Mediterranean shores of the Middle East.
The exhibition title is inspired by an evocative series of drawings entitled Personnages, produced by Afnan over the course of a number of years using mixed media and featuring a succession of human faces and figures.
The portrayals within the works simulate a crowd of ghostly presences through which the artist restores fragments of her existence during the troubled course of twentieth-century events in the Middle East. Each work conveys a face, a potential memory and a forgotten story, alluding to the uprooting of her culture and identity as a dimension of human destiny that is not only historical but also existential.
The exhibition narrative presented at the MAN is characterized by a series of enigmatic works by the artist on different supports, using a variety of techniques that include layering, combustion and plaster reliefs.
It also features two works from the 1970s: boxes subjected to a combustion process that evokes the contemporary drama of the Civil War in Lebanon, and an installation, constructed using ancient Bahá’í books, a faith founded by her ancestor Bahá’u’lláh in the nineteenth century.
The exhibition concludes with a display case containing a selection of small sketches and drawings.
These drafts reveal an aspect that runs beneath the surface of all of the artist’s work: the perception of the tragic as being inseparable from the dimension of humour and irony.
Born in Palestine to Persian parents from the Bahá’í religious tradition, Afnan’s life was a diasporic one, going from the Mediterranean shores of Palestine and Lebanon to the United States, Kuwait, France and the UK.
The historical and social events of the Middle East from the 1940s onwards characterized her artistic career, during which she testified to the traumatic events of those decades, such as the devastation caused by the Civil War in Lebanon.
The project is accompanied by a monographic catalogue published by Cagliari-based Arkadia, with texts by Sussan Babaie (reader in the arts of Iran and Islam at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London), Rose Issa (Middle Eastern art historian, London) and Luigi Fassi.