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Artists' Index
Encyclopedia of Modern Art and Arab World
موســــوعة الفـن الحديـــث والعالــم العربـــي
Artists' Index

Marwan Kassab-Bachi

 
 
 

Mainly known and represented under his first name Marwan. Born 31 January 1934 in Damascus, Syria, deceased 22 October 2016 in Berlin

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Charlotte Bank

Biography​​

Marwan Kassab-Bachi was born in Damascus to a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father. The father was a tradesman and enabled his six children a sheltered, comfortable upbringing. Marwan enrolled in Arabic literature at the University of Damascus in 1955 while taking private lessons in painting and drawing. He was a politically active student and was involved in the students’ organization of the (then-oppositional) Ba‘th party. Even after relocating to Berlin in 1957, he remained the delegate of the Ba‘thist students for the German-speaking countries until 1962.

The intellectual and artistic scene that Marwan was a part of in Syria was lively and dynamic, despite a politically instable environment, and artists were negotiating artistic identities, whether modern, national and more broadly Arab. He participated in a couple of group exhibitions in Damascus, such as the Third Exhibition of Fine Art” at Damascus National Museum in 1952 and the Spring exhibition in 1955, where he won an award for the sculpture Al-ju (Hunger). Among his friends were the brothers Adham and Naim Ismail, fellow artists and activists with whom he exhibited in 1957 at the Unesco Palace in Beirut. 

However, while Marwan was taking actively part in the cultural life in Syria both as an artist and activist, he dreamt of studying art in Paris. In 1957, he travelled to Berlin via Genoa and Munich, planning to continue his journey to Paris. But he became attracted to the city of Berlin and enrolled at the HdK (Hochschule der Künste), where he was accepted into the class of Professor Hann Trier, a leading figure in the German Informel movement. Gestural painting had largely come to dominate the international art world since the end of the Second World War, but for Marwan, it was a new encounter, having hitherto mostly been influenced by the European schools of Impressionism and Expressionism. Trier was highly influential during Marwan’s early years in Germany and encouraged him to find his own visual language. The few works from this period that still exist show a clear affinity to informal painting, but, like other young artists of the time, Marwan soon felt dissatisfied with this approach. The German artists, Eugen Schönebeck and Georg Baselitz, fellow students of Marwan, published their Pandemonium Manifesto in 1961 and 1962, in which they called for a new kind of art, that should be “aggressive, ugly and dirty”. In this artistic climate, Marwan also began to experiment with new forms, often giving his paintings the title “Figuration”, a title that emphasizes the experimental aspect as something not yet finished. He finished his studies in 1962 and went on to pursue his career as an artist. To earn a living, he worked as a furrier’s assistant during the day and painted at night and on weekends. His works of this period bear witness to the hardship, to feelings of loneliness, of longing – both in the emotional and erotic sense – and of worries faced with the deteriorating political situation in the Arab world. His concern with the upheavals in his home region is witnessed by paintings and drawings from the 1960s of Arab political activists and intellectuals, such as Badr Shakir al-Sayab and Munif al-Razzaz as well as a series of works depicting Palestinian fidayeen dating from the early 1970s. His paintings of the fidayeen differ from other painters’ treatment of the motif by focusing on the human aspect of the figures, highlighting their youth and vulnerability and refraining from common accessories such as the gun or the kufiya. In most cases, Marwan’s fidayeen are only recognizable as such from the title of the works and in the German titles of the works, even such a hint can be missing.

Marwan’s first exhibition in Germany took place in 1967 at Galerie Springer in Berlin and from then on, he exhibited on a regular basis at various galleries and art institutions. In 1973, he received a scholarship at Cité des arts in Paris for one year and was finally able to immerse himself in studies of French painting. He became a guest professor at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin from 1977 – 1979 and was appointed full professor at the same institution in 1980. In 1994 he was elected to the Akademie der Künste Berlin, an institution whose members of international artists are elected by a directing board. He died on 22 October 2016 in Berlin.

Marwan is mainly known as a figurative painter, but his work often moves along the boundaries of abstraction and figuration. After turning away from his initial path of informal painting, he experimented with figurative motifs that often represent undefinable, nightmare-like landscapes with bizarre creatures or heaps of meat set against a dark background, evoking dark, somber associations. A similar tortured mood is also discernable in the slightly later figurative works of the late 1960s and early 1970s. From around 1970, he began to explore the human face as his main motif, first in the so-calledFace-landscapes and later in the Heads, the motif that became dominant from the 1980s onwards and for which he is mainly known. The “Face-landscapes” and “Heads” are not portraits in the strict sense, although they are often inspired by the artist himself or his friends. The “Heads” are characterized by strong colors and a technique recalls the painterly gesture of his early informal paintings. Alongside oil and acrylic paintings in different formats, Marwan produced etchings, watercolor paintings, drawings and illustrated most of the covers of the Saudi writer Abdulrahman Munif’s books in the 1990s.

His friendship with Abdulrahman Munif is one example of his life-long friendships and correspondences with Arab intellectual and artistic figures and testifies to the strong attachment he felt to the Arab world throughout his life. Another important figure with whom he collaborated and corresponded was the Syrian poet Adonis. Marwan lived his entire life as a professional artist in Berlin and was actively involved in this city’s art scene, as an artist, as an educator and through his activities at the Akademie der Künste. Yet, despite this recognition, he remained an outsider in many ways. Critics and art historians often struggled as to how to place him and his work within the art scene in Germany. He was often described with romanticized notions of the “Bedouin”, despite his clearly urban Damascene background, and a particular “Arab” sensuality was inscribed into his work. The truly transcultural aspect of Marwan’s artistic personality and work has only rarely been explored on a scholarly level. He cherished his memories of Damascus and Syria, especially in the form of light and color, but through his artistic training and sensibilities he remained strongly attached to European painting, often expressing a profound affinity to German Expressionist painting.

Remaining concerned about the Arab world, in 1999 Marwan founded the Summer Academy of the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation at Darat al-Funun in Amman with his assistant Salah Saouli to offer young artists from the region opportunities to study art. He was thus highly influential for a generation of young artists who went on to have careers of their own, such as e.g. Mohammad Al Hawajri, Tammam Azzam, Ayman Baalbaki, Mohammad Said Baalbaki, Rana Bishara and Tagreed Darghouth. Among the regular students who studied in Marwan’s class at the HdK in Berlin are Richard Besancon, Monica Bonvincini, Robert Lucander, Salah Saouli and Jens Wohlrab.

Marwan’s work is represented in numerous public and private collections and has been shown at exhibitions on an international scale. Listed below is a selection of the most significant.

Exhibitions

When no particular titles of exhibitions are given, the artist’s name was given as title.

Solo shows (selection)

1967: Galerie Springer, Berlin, Germany

1970: Arab Cultural Center, Damascus, Syria

1971: Galerie Lietzow, Berlin, Germany

1976 : Gruenebaum Gallery, New York, USA

Orangerie Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany

1980: Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq

1981: Schloss Bellevue, Documenta Archive, Kassel, Germany

1983: Overbeck-Gesellschaft, Lübeck, Germany

1984: Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany

1991: Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany 

Kunststation St. Peter, Cologne, Germany

1993:

Marwan: peintures, gravures, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France 

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France

1994:

Atassi Gallery, Damascus, Syria 

Galerie d’Art 50 x 70, Beirut, Lebanon

1995:

Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation / Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan 

Atassi Gallery, Damascus, Syria

1996 :

Retrospective, Atassi Gallery, Damascus, Syria 

Retrospective, Al Hanager Hall, Cairo, Egypt 

Retrospective, Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation / Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan

1998:

Birzeit University, Birzeit, Palestine 

Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Palestine 

Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation / Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan 

Galerie Épreuve d’artiste, Beirut, Lebanon

1999

Stadtmuseum Jena, Jena, Germany 

Kunstverein Zweibrücken, Zweibrücken, Germany 

Galerie am Fischmarkt / Kunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany

2000

Brechthaus Weißensee, Berlin, Germany

2001:

Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Palestine 

Georg Meistermann Museum / Städtische Galerie für Moderne Kunst, Wittlich, Germany 

Richard Haizmann Museum, Niebüll, Germany

2002:

Kunsthalle Emden, Emden, Germany

2004:

Lippische Gesellschaft für Kunst, Detmold, Germany 

Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation / Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan

2005:

Marwan Beirut, New Waterfront Exhibition Center, Beirut City Center, Beirut, Lebanon 

Marwan: Khaddousch oder das unbekannte Frühwerk. Aquarelle und Zeichnungen 1962–1971, Lindenau Museum, Altenburg, Germany 

Damascus – Berlin – Damascus, Khan Asaad Basha, Damascus, Syria 

Solidere Art Hall, Beirut, Lebanon

2006:

Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Lübeck, Germany 

Berlinische Galerie, Berlin, Germany 

Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, Berlin, Germany

2008: Beaux Arts Gallery, Dubai, UAE

2008 – 2009Marwan. Die 99 Antlitze, Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, Germany

2009:

Bis zum Ende offen – Marwan, eine Retrospektive in elf Akten, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Germany 

Abdelrahman Munif Hikayat wa ghilaf (Marwan. Abdelrahman Munif Tales and Book Covers) Tajalliyat Gallery, Damascus

2013Marwan. Early Works 1962 – 1972, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon

2014: Marwan. Primeiras obras 1962 – 1972 (Marwan. Early Works 1962 – 1972), Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves, Porto, Portugal

2014 – 2015: Topographies of the Soul, Maraya Art Center, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE

2015: 

Not Towards Home, But the Horizon, Mosaic Rooms, London, UK 

Meem Gallery, Dubai, UAE

2018: Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin, Germany (posthumous)

Group exhibitions (selection)

1952Al-ma‘rid al-thalith li-l-funun al-jamila (Third Exhibition of Fine Art), Damascus National Museum, Damascus, Syria

1955: Ma‘rid al-rabi (Spring exhibition), Damascus, Syria

1957: Unesco, Beirut, Lebanon

1971: Liebespaare in der deutschen Graphik des 20. Jahrhunderts, Farbwerke Höchst, Frankfurt / Kunstverein Ludwigshafen / Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, Germany

1975: Druckgraphik der Gegenwart 1960 – 1975 im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany

1976: Freunde danken Werner Haftmann, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany

1978: Seven German Realists, 4th Triennale India, New Delhi, India

1982: Venice Biennale, Italy

1985:  

30 Jahre Karl-Hofer-Gesellschaft, Kunstquartier Ackerstraße, Berlin, Germany 

Autoportraits contemporains. 80 œuvres sur papier, Musée-Galerie de la Seita, Paris, France  

1986:  

Berlinische Galerie. Kunst in Berlin von 1870 bis heute, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin 

Bildhauer und Maler am Steinplatz, Staatliche Kunsthalle Berlin, Germany 

Das andere Land, Orangerie im Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany

1988: Quatre peintres arabes, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

1990:  

Kunstszene Berlin (West) 86 – 89, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany  

Berliner Kunststücke, Museum der Bildenden Künste Leipzig, Germany 

Ambiente Berlin, Venice Biennale, Italy

1991:  Berlin! The Berlinische Galerie Art Collection Visits Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

1996:  

Begegnungen: Armando, Marwan, Kiessling, Nestler, Davenport, 50 Jahre Kunst- und Museumsverein Wuppertal, Kunsthalle Barmen, Wuppertal, Germany 

100 Zeichnungen, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany

2001:  

Zusammen. Mitglieder der Akademie der Künste und ihre Gäste, Schweriner Kunst- und Museumsverein, Schwerin, Germany 

Kinder als Auftraggeber, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany 

2009: Istanbul Biennale, Istanbul, Turkey

2011: 760 914 cm2 Druck, Städtische Galerie, Wolfsburg, Germany

2013: Kunst in Berlin. 1945 bis heute, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin, Germany

2014: Here and Elsewhere, New Museum, New York, USA

2016 – 2017: Uncertain States. Artistic Strategies in States of Emergency, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany

2016 – 2017: Post-War: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945 – 1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany

2017: Venice Biennale, venice, Italy 

Modern Art from the Middle East, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA

 

Awards and Honors


1955 First Award for Sculpture, Spring Exhibition, Damascus 

1966 Karl Hofer Preis, Berlin 

1994 Member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin 

2002 Fred Thieler Preis für Malerei, Berlin 

2005 Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande 

2005 Prix Forum Culturel Libanais 


Keywords

Syria, Germany, heads, neo-expressionism


Bibliography

 

Becker, Joachim: Marwan. Das verborgene Bild / The Hidden Image, Halle: Projekte-Verlag Cornelius 2013


Boullata, Kamal: Qira’at al-jasad fi lawhat Marwan, al-Akhar, no. 2, Fall 2011, pp. 108 – 182   

 

Kassab-Bachi, Marwan: Ayyam al-ramad wa-l-ruman, Dar al-Tanwir, Beirut 2018 (extracts from the diaries of Marwan) 

 

Merkert, Jörn: Marwan, ein syrischer Maler in Berlin. Werke in der Sammlung der Berlinischern Galerie, Berlin: Berlinische Galerie 2000 (catalogue of works in the collection of Berlinische Galerie with essays by Jörn Merkert, Abdel Rahman Munif, Eberhard Roters, Michael Freitag, Robert Kudielka, Guido Faßbender and poems by Adonis, Karin Kiwus, Joachim Sartorius) 

 

Marwan 1966 – 1976, Berliner Künstler der Gegenwart Heft 16, Berlin: Neuer Berliner Kunstverein 1976 

 

Marwan. Peintures, gravures, Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe 1993 (exhibition catalogue with texts by Jörn Merkert, Adonis, Karin Kiwus, Abdelkebir Khatibi, Francois Nedellec 

 

Marwan. An die Kinder Palästinas, Munich & Ramallah: Goethe-Institut 1998 

 

Marwan. Neunundneunzig Gesichter, Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgrafik, Erfurt: Galerie am Fischmarkt 1999  

 

Marwan. Khaddousch oder das unbekannte Frühwerk. Aquarelle und Zeichnungen 1962 – 1971, Berlin: Berlinische Galerie 2005 (exhibition catalogue with essays by Jörn Merkert, Jutta Penndorf, Katharina Raab, Thorsten Rodiek) 

 

Marwan. Beirut, Beirut: Solidere 2005 (exhibition catalogue with texts by Jörn Merkert, Joachim Sartorius, Robert Kudielka, foreword by Nasser Chammaa) 

 

Marwan. 75 Aquarelle, Stuttgart: Radius-Verlag 2008 catalogue of watercolours with texts by Adonis, Karin Kiwus, Jörn Merkert, Joachim Sartorius, Joseph Tarrab) 

 

Marwan. Abdelrahman Munif Tales and Covers, Damascus: Tajalliyat Art Gallery 2009 

 

Marwan Early Works 1962 – 1972, Beirut: Solidere 2013 (exhibition catalogue with essays by Catherine David, Jörn Merkert) 

 

Marwan. Primeiras obras / Early Works 1962 – 1972, Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves 2014 (exhibition catalogue with essays by Catherine David, Rasha Salti, foreword by Suzanne Cotter) 

 

Marwan. Topographies of the Soul, Sharjah: Barjeel Foundation 2014 (exhibition catalogue with essays by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Ismail Al Rifa’i, Charlotte Bank) 

 

Marwan, Berlin: Galerie Michael Haas 2018 (exhibition catalogue with an essay by Charlotte Bank) 

 

Munif, Abd al-Rahman: Rihlat al-hayat wa al-fann: Dimashq - Berlin, Damascus: Maktabat al-Assad 1998 

 

Munif, Abdulrahman and Marwan: Fi-adab al-sadaqa, Beirut: Darat al-tanwir and Mu’assasat al-arabiyya li-l-darasat wa al-nashr 2012 (correspondence between Abdulrahman Munif and Marwan, foreword by Fawwaz Traboulsi) 


Further reading 

Flügge, Matthias: Marwan - Khaddousch or the Unknown Early Works, September 2006, https://universes.art/en/nafas/articles/2006/marwan/ 

 

Kassab-Bachi, Marwan: lam naktub kitab bustan Dimasq, Bidayat Magazine no. 10, Winter 2015 

https://www.bidayatmag.com/node/548 (letter from Marwan to Abdulrahman Munif) 

 

Kholeif, Omar: Marwan Kassab-Bachi 1934 – 2016, Artforum, December 7, 2016, https://www.artforum.com/passages/omar-kholeif-on-marwan-kassab-bachi-1934-2016-65175 

 

Ng, Brady: Marwan Kassab Bachi 1934 – 2016, ArtAsiaPacific, October 24, 2016, http://artasiapacific.com/News/MarwanKassabBachi19342016 

 

Saouli, Salah: Nachruf Marwan Qassab Bashi: Brücke zwischen den Kulturen, inamo, Heft Nr. 88, Jahrgang 22, Winter 2016, p. 63 

 

Saouli, Salah: Sana ‘ala rahil Marwan Kassab-Bachi: mut‘at al-ayn wa ghibtat al-ruh, October 21, 2017, https://www.al-akhbar.com/Literature_Arts/239447 

 

Sweilih, Khalil: Marwan Kassab-Bachi. Vom Impressionismus zum Expressionismus, Qantara, April 27, 2005, https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/marwan-kassab-bachi-vom-impressionismus-zum-expressionismus-0 

 

Tyson, Janet: Saturnine Portraits Somewhere Between Damascus and Berlin, Hyperallergic, December 3, 2015, https://hyperallergic.com/258568/saturnine-portraits-somewhere-between-damascus-and-berlin/