Half-Kurd, half-Kazakh, Shwan was born in a city in the south of Iraq in 1955. At a young age, he already showed a strong desire to learn to paint, but his refusal to join his country's single party closed the doors of art schools to him. Thus, he proceeded to Italy in 1977, and earned a diploma from the Fine Arts Academy of Perugia in 1982. The precariousness of his status and the fear of being sent back to Iraq encouraged him to immigrate to Canada, where, he was told, the standard of living was high. He arrived in Edmonton in 1983, but preferred to settle in Toronto, where the artistic milieu seemed to him more dynamic.
During his years of study in Italy, he was attracted to several artists, in particular Bori, Tapiés and Miró-and later to the American abstract painters of the groupAction Painting and Willem de Kooning. Wishing to innovate, he systematically copied the works he admired in order to discover their secrets. Audacious, he used unusual materials and supports such as coffee, wine, nail polish, vinyl tiles and photographic paper, and invented new techniques. He has essentially developed two approaches in his art: the first, more aesthetic, pays particular attention to the composition of the painting; the second, more playful, is inspired by popular Arab culture.