June 18, 2020

Baya Mahieddine‘s (1931-1998) art works are everything I love to see in a painting; bright, saturated colour, rich pattern, whimsy, spontaneity and rule-defying compositions. Baya discovered clay and guaches as a young orphan girl when she was taken in by French painter, Marguerite Caminat Benhoura. Benhoura gave her materials and introduced her to French and Maghrebi art veterans. At just 17, Mahieddine was discovered by French dealer, Aimé Maeght, and André Breton, who showed Baya’s works at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme at Galerie Maeght in Paris. Her “childlike” style inspired both Matisse and Picasso. Baya’s race and her gender, are central themes in her paintings. Birds, fish, flowers and fruits are recurrent motifs, a visual language cultivated in childhood, while living in a colonial horticultural farm with her grandmother after her parents died. Of Baya’s work, Breton once wrote, “It’s undeniable that, in her bag of marvels, love potions and spells, rival extracts of perfumes from the Thousand and One Nights […] Baya, whose mission is to recharge with meaning those beautiful nostalgic words: Arabia Felix.” The division of Western and non-Western art is démodé, and Baya refused categorization. Instead, she occupied a space that was all her own.


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