Marwan (1934–2016)

The Syrian painter Marwan—considered one of the most important Arab artists of his generation—died in Berlin on October 23 at the age of eighty-two.

Born as Marwan Kassab-Bachi in Damascus in 1934, the artist lived and worked in Berlin starting in 1957. There, he studied alongside Georg Baselitz at the West Berlin Academy and became a proponent of the New Figuration movement in the 1960s. German art historian Jorn Merkert, a friend of Marwan’s, said Marwan was “obsessed by faces because for him they are a means of expressing the dramatic depth of life.”

Marwan’s work has been shown at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal; the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; and many of his pieces are in the collection of the Berlinische Galerie. He taught for many summers at the Darat al Funun Khalid Shoman Foundation in Amman, Jordan, and in 1994 he became the first Arab member of the Akademie der Künste in Germany.

Saudi Arabian novelist Abdul-Rahman Munif was a friend whose book Journey of Art and Life (1997) was about Marwan. He said that the painter “belongs to a rare breed of artists who firmly believe that art is a moral act which links entertainment and joy with a search for truth.” Following Munif’s death in 2004, reissues of many of his books included images by Marwan, including the five-part novel Cities of Salt (1984).