Afnan was born in 1935 to Persian parents in Haifa, Palestine, where she lived until 1949. Her family then moved to Beirut, where she went to high school and later graduated with a BA from the American University of Beirut in 1955. In 1956 she moved to Washington DC, where she graduated with an MA in Fine Arts at the Corcoran School of Art (1962). From 1963-66 she lived in Kuwait and then returned to Beirut, where she lived until 1974. She spent the following 23 years in Paris, where she had numerous exhibitions, before settling in London in 1997.
Afnan works with paper on an intimate scale to create works of refined beauty. Inspired by predominantly archeology and script, her works allude to ancient scrolls and tablets. Yet, at other times, her abstract works appear as landscapes, figures or relics that have been excavated from a long-forgotten site. Using muted hues and earthy colors, her mesmerizing layers and overlapping patterns leave a sense of what it means to live in other times and in different places. Although influenced by the traditional art forms of her own heritage (Persian miniatures, calligraphic texts and ancient manuscripts from the Near East) her Western education has caused her to looks towards artists such as Klee, Rothko and Pollock. In this regard her work absorbs and transcends any direct cultural references creating her own unique language.
Afnan has participated in several solo exhibitions including: Tracing Memories, Art Dubai Modern, Lawrie Shabibi, 2016; Speak Memory, Rose Issa Projects, London, UK, 2013; Traces, Faces, Places, Rose Issa Projects, London, UK, 2010; Selected Works, England and Co, London, UK, 2006; Maliheh Afnan: Retrospective, England and Co, London, UK, 2000; Galerie Mouvances, Paris, France, 1996; Théâtre de Beyrouth, Beirut, Lebanon, 1994; Galerie 10 Bonaparte, Paris, France, 1994; Leighton House Museum, London, UK, 1993; Galerie Arcadia, Paris, France, 1987; A&A Turner Galerie, Paris, France, 1982; Galerie Brigitte Schehadé, Paris, France, 1980; Galerie Principe-Anne Merlet, Paris, France, 1978; Presented by Michel Tapié, Galerie Cyrus, Paris, France, 1974; And Presented by Mark Tobey, Galerie Claire Brambach, Basel, Switzerland, 1971.
She has participated in several group shows including: Asemic, Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Brugge, Belgium, 2014; The Blue Route: Journeys and Beauty from the Mediterranean to China, Boghossian Foundation, Brussels, Belgium, 2013; Hope Map, Cuulturcentrum, Bruges, Belgium, 2013; Persian for Beginners, Rose Issa Projects, London, UK, 2012; The Art of Writing, Kurhaus Kolonnade, Wiesbaden, Germany, 2011; Zendegi: Twelve Contemporary Iranian Artists (curated by Rose Issa Projects), Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon, 2011; Miragens, touring exhibition at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia, Brazil, 2011; Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, UK, 2010; Taswir: Pictorial Mappings of Islam and Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, Berlin, Germany, 2009; Re-Orientations: Contemporary Arab Representations, European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, 2008; Routes, Waterhouse & Dodd, London, UK, 2008; Word into Art, DIFC, Dubai, UAE, 2008; The Dance of Pen and Ink, The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow and The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia, 2007; Routes, the British Museum, London, UK, 2006; Iranian Contemporary Art, Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre, London, UK, 2001; Salon de Réalités Nouvelles, Espace Eiffel Branly, Paris, France, 1997; Traditions of Respect: Britain and Islamic Cultures, The British Council, London, UK, 1997; Salon du Dessin et de la Peinture à l’Eau, Espace Eiffel Branly, Paris, 1995; Salon d’Automne, Thorigny-Sur-Marne, France, 1994; Exposition Inaugurale, Galerie du Chêne – Donald Vallotton, Lausanne, France, 1992; Collecting 20th-Century Art, The British Museum, London, 1991; Painting and Sculpture at the End of the 20th Century, European Cultural Centre of Delphi, Greece, 1988; Selected Artists, Kufa Gallery, London, UK, 1985; Paysages, Galerie Faris, Paris, France, 1985 and Salon de Réalités Nouvelles, Espace Eiffel Branly, Paris, France, 1984.
Afnan’s work is in several public collections, including the Written Art Collection, Germany; The Metropolitan Museum, New York City, New York, USA; The British Museum, London, UK; the Institut du Monde Arabe, Akkram Ojjeh Foundation and BAII Bank Collection, all in Paris, France.
She has also featured in several publications, most recently Familiar Faces (2013, Rose Issa Projects) and Maliheh Afnan: Traces, Faces, Places (2010, Al Saqi Books & Beyond Art Productions).
Maliheh Afnan passed away in London in January 2016.