Shirin Abu Shaqra



Artist Bio

Multidisciplinary artist, researcher, and filmmaker.
Shirin is born in Doha to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother. She lived in Paris, Montreal, Alexandria and Istanbul and currently resides in Beirut. Shirin received her MFA with honors in 2010 from the Fresnoy, National Studio for Contemporary Arts in France. Before entering the artistic field, she finished a master in History (2004) and a Diplôme d’Études Approfondies
(DEA) in Political Science (2006) at Saint Joseph University Beirut (USJ). She worked for eight years as a librarian and a researcher publishing several academic articles at the Centre for Modern Arab Studies (CEMAM – USJ).

In 2017 she participates in the Lebanon Factory, a programme that inaugurates the Fortnight section in the Cannes Film Festival. She also just finished What Happens to a Displaced Ant? A 40’ epistolary film inspired by a five months emergency mission with Doctors Without Borders in the Mediterranean. Shirin also does mixed techniques video and sound
installations, ‘musical voyages’ for exhibitions. In her artwork, she uses History for its collective memory, music for its Dionysian effect, and animation for its distanced wit. Thematically, exile and disembodiment are omnipresent elements, love and kinship a constant concern. Shirin is currently working on her first feature film.

Over the course of the 1960s, Adnan started to move away from the purely abstract forms. In 1964, thanks to a fellow artist in San Francisco, she discovered leporellos, accordion-style folded books in which she could mix drawing with writing and poetry. Another pivotal moment took place a decade later, when Adnan moved to Sausalito, near San Francisco, and discovered the landscape of Mount Tamalpais, which remains the most important encounter of her life. Her obsession with the mountain led to many paintings and, after more than two decades of intense contemplation, to the seminal book Journey to Mount Tamalpais (1986), which explores links between nature and art. As Adnan told me, “Mount Tamalpais became my house. For Cézanne, Sainte-Victoire was no longer a mountain. It was an absolute. It was painting.” Mount Tamalpais also appears in another dimension of Adnan’s work, her seventy filmic snapshots of the sea, sun, and sky, which she started to make in the 1980s with a Super 8 camera. On visits to New York City, she would also film what she saw from her window. The bridges, skylines, and passing ships that she observed there lead us to yet another dimension in her practice: her drawings and watercolors, which she has made daily ever since she began to draw as her means of expression while learning English in America. These New York drawings, made with thick black ink, were soon after followed by a series of drawings of the stone bridges of Paris. As Simone Fattal shows in her writings on Adnan’s visual art practice, one of these is an echo of a line in a Baudelaire poem, “an agonizing sun falling under an arch.”

It was in Paris that I met Adnan for the first time, in 2007. We quickly became friends and started to collaborate on many projects, such as the Serpentine Gallery’s Edgware Road Project and several marathons between London and Athens and the Point d’Ironie magazine with Agnès b. We began to record a large number of conversations. Adnan is one of the greatest artists of our time, one of the wisest I have ever met, and a great inspiration to many people. Although she is now in her late eighties, I am always struck by the amazing energy and intensity of her recent practice, which is still among the best work being created in the world today. I am also continually struck by the amazing optimism of her paintings, which as Fattal explains, both “exude energy and give energy. They grow on you like talismans . . . paintings as pure energy with which to live one’s life with courage.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist is a London-based art curator, critic and director of International Projects at the Serpentine Galleries.

This text is an excerpt from Maharam Stories (Skira Rizzoli, 2015).


Shirin Abu Shaqra . Detail from the installation 'Hayat' . 2013/ re-edited 2018 . Mixed media installation . Variable dimensions


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Artists of the Gallery

Youssef Abdelke

Adel Abidin

Shirin Abu Shaqra

Abed Al Kadiri

Mojé Assefjah

Martin Assig

Michael Biberstein

Sonja Braas

Ricardo Brey

Franck Christen

Roy Dib


Elger Esser

Simone Fattal

Chafa Ghaddar

Gilbert Hage

Herbert Hamak

Joumana Jamhouri

David Kramer

Urs Lüthi

Rania Matar

Randa Mirza

Charlotte Mumm

Serge Najjar

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Giulio Rimondi

Walid Sadek

Charles Sandison

Nada Sehnaoui

Bongchull Shin

Catharina van Eetvelde

Stephen Waddell

Fadi Yazigi

Kimiko Yoshida

Ghassan Zard

Cynthia Zaven