« When I paint, I am happy and I am in another world. »
Coinciding with the exhibition « Baya, icône de la peinture algérienne Femmes en leur Jardin » at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the gallery is showing a selection of works from three decades (1960-1990), years of the full development of the work of Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998). A self-taught artist, Baya educated her gaze both through nature and art, especially Matisse who has bought several of her gouaches since 1943. Baya had her own, imaginary visual language, her individuality. She quickly abandoned her naïve gaze for an enlightened and liberated insight. Her work is uncategorizable but embedded in her Arab-Berber origins.
Baya's earliest paintings, done at the age of 13 and 14, were conceived in a "childlike" or naïve artistic vein, yet her vigorous drawing featuring feminine figures meld with flora and fauna revealed an instinctive facility in arrangement and taste in colour. Her clay figures and gouaches were admired by André Breton, who hung one of Baya's gouaches in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in June of 1947, and by the French collector Aimé Maeght who invited her to exhibit in his gallery in Paris in November of the same year. She was only sixteen years old. Her work, so important to the Surrealist aesthetic, inspired Breton, who celebrated Baya's work as the future of painting in the preface to the exhibition catalogue. He exclaimed, in a burst of enthusiasm for this young woman: "Baya is queen". In 1948, she was featured on the cover page of Vogue magazine with a text by Edmonde Charles Roux.
Her work also appealed to Picasso, when both artists worked with the same ceramic studioin southern France, where she was invited to be an artist in residence. She spent her summers at Madoura from 1948 to 1952, working side by side with Picasso. Braque, Jean Dubuffet, Christian Bérard, François Mauriac, Jean Senac have contemplated her works. Everyone has recognized something more than just talent. The ability of invention, an innate sense of the relationships between colors and forms, a miraculous intuition in her creative skills. While her Algerian painter contemporaries such as Mohammed Khadda andM'hamed Issiakhem, were experimenting in abstraction and Fauvism, Baya worked entirely figuratively. Later in her career Baya took part in the Aouchem group (whose name means "tattoos") founded by the Algerian artists Denis Martinez and Choukri Mesli, with whom she exhibited widely.
In 1953, Baya returned to Algeria where she married the acclaimed "arobo-andalousian" musician El Hadj Mahfoud Mahieddine and raised a family during the turbulent eight-year fight for French decolonization lasting from 1954 to 1962. She declined an offer to move to France, in affirmation of her Algerian identity. She settled with her family in Blida, Algeria: it's the end of an era. In 1963, Baya returns to her studio after a break of ten years. Thanks to the praises of Jean de Maisonseul, the director at the Fine Arts National Museum of Algiers, where she exhibited the same year and then in Paris in 1964. Since then, Baya grounded her profoundly inventive career in painting and regularly exhibited in France and Algeria until she died on November 9, 1998.
Since her first exhibition in 1947 in Paris, Baya Mahieddine has occupied an undefined but fabled place in the second half of twentieth-century art history. In 1982, the Museum Cantini in Marseilles organized an exhibition of her works inaugurated by French President François Mitterrand in presence of the Mayor of Algiers and the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang. In 1986, she participated at the 2nd Biennial of La Havana, Cuba. In July 1987, she was honored by Algerian president Chadli. Celebrated in Algeria, France, and the Middle East, Baya gained international recognition with the first North American exhibition in 2018, "Baya: Women of Algiers" at the Grey Art Gallery NYU curated by Natasha Boas. In 2021, Sharjah Art Museum presented the exhibition "Lasting impressions: Baya Mahieddine", and in 2022 the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris presents" Baya, icône de la peinture algérienne. Femmes en leur Jardin" at, through March 2023. Her works are part of prestigious collections worldwide.