Baya: The Forgotten Artist

Featured Image/Baya Mahieddine

Featured Image/Baya Mahieddine

The twentieth century was a glorious one for art buffs- from the modernism of O’Keefe to the cubism that defined Picasso, we were gifted with hundreds of gorgeous paintings. However, one of the most influential artists of that time has conveniently been forgotten. In the 1940s, the art world became entranced with the paintings of Baya Mahieddine- a 16 year old Algerian teenage girl who was completely self taught.

Mahieddine’s life was far from easy. She was born in the beachy suburbs of Algiers, near the Northwestern tip of Africa. After her parents passed away, she was raised by her grandmother and had to drop out of school and start working. She was a servant in the house of French socialite Marguerite Camina Benhoura, later becoming her adopted daughter. Benhoura noticed that Mahieddine had an affinity towards the arts and provided her with the tools and connections she would need to become a painter.

Using gouache as her primary medium, Mahieddine created bright, bold paintings that depicted women, animals, and plants. She based these images off of traditional African tribal art, staying close to her roots as an Algerian citizen. Exuberantly costumed women seem to dance off of the canvasses of her paintings; the fauvists assaults of pulsing color attracted a wide audience, including Picasso, Mattisse, and most of the Parisian elite. Many artists adopted her style in their paintings, using equally bold colors and strange figures in their work.

History has shined favorably on Picasso, Matisse, and many of the other painters who drew inspiration from Baya Mahieddine. Baya herself, however, is a different story. She has become just another woman who has been trampled underneath history’s boot; left to be forgotten like many of the other influential women before her. Pablo Picasso is now one of the most well-known painters of all time, while Baya Mahieddine remains relatively unknown. Perhaps it is just a fluke. Or, perhaps, it may be too much for some people to swallow; that some of the greatest artists of all time drew inspiration from a sixteen year old, indigenous, teenage girl.