Abdallah Benanteur grew up in the western Algerian port city of Mostaganem where his uncle, a musician, introduced him to Andalusian music and his father taught him about poetry and mysticism. Benanteur's father was involved in anti-colonial politics and was one of the first Algerians to be interned by the French in the Hoggar Mountains, in the extreme south of the country. Benanteur remembers making his first paintings at ten or twelve years of age when he painted flowers on handkerchiefs. Reflecting back on his early start as an artist in a 1998 interview with Djilali Kadid, Benanteur attributes being allowed by his parents to paint through his poor health as a child, and explains that because he was a shy child, painting offered him a way to get closer to others indirectly.
Benanteur studied painting, sculpture, and drawing at the Institute of Fine Arts in Oran before joining the French army. In 1953, along with his friend and fellow painter, Mohammad Khadda (1930 - 1991), he moved to Paris, where he continued to live and work. Algerian author Rachid Boudjedra has described Benanteur's decision to remain in Paris in a voluntary state of exile, one that is simultaneously metaphysical and geographic. Benanteur is associated with the post-World War II New School of Paris, alongside other Algerian-born painters such as Mohamed Aksouh (1934), Jean de Maisonseul (1912 - 1999), Maria Manton (1910 - 2003), and Louis Nallard (1918), as well as with what Jean Sénac (1926 - 1973) called the
École des signes (School of Signs), with Abdelkader Guermaz (1919 - 1996) and Khadda. François Pouillon argues that these artists resisted figuration and embraced abstraction in part in response to how nationalist themes dominated figurative painting in Algeria at the time of the country's independence in 1962.
Benanteur's oeuvre can be divided into two categories: paintings and artists' books. Largely non-figurative, Benanteur's paintings oscillate between landscape and abstraction. They are characterized by short, dynamic, and loose brushstrokes, a vivid use of color, and the incorporation of symbols and nature predominately from Algeria. The color blue dominates Benanteur's paintings from the 1950s, while ochre characterizes many of his paintings in the 1960s. His
Visiteuses (Vistors) series began in 1975 after Benanteur visited his mother in Algeria. Benanteur's wife, the poet Monica Boucher, describes the
Visiteuses as "forms at the limit of the figurative and the abstract," and notes that in each, the same mother-woman figure appears. This series includes the two hundred gouaches that Benanteur produced in a single month following his visit to Algeria, and the twenty-four large paintings that he completed in the subsequent two years. In the late 1970s, he began painting diptychs and triptychs, a choice of format motivated in part from the artist's admiration for painters like Grunewald and Giotto but which also enables the artist to physically include the spectator in the painting (Benanteur, quoted in Kadid).
In the late 1950s, Benanteur began work on the second major axis of his oeuvre: printmaking and artist's books. Although Benanteur's printmaking occurs in parallel with his painting, he is careful to distinguish between his work in these two different media. In his 1500 artist books, which are typically collaborations with the artist's poet friends, Benanteur's printmaking employs multiple supports, including copper, zinc, linoleum, steel, and wood. The first such book was
Matinale de mon peuple [Morning of My People] (1961) by French-Algerian poet Jean Sénac. Many of Benanteur's books produced since have featured the work of contemporary Algerian poets and the Sufi mystics whose poetry his father first shared with him. Benanteur is personally involved in every stage of the production of these artist's books, including the typography design, something made possible in part by his job at a printing press in Paris. According to the artist, "chaque livre était une aventure, un envol - 'each book was an adventure, a flight' " (Benanteur, quoted in Kadid).
Benanteur's paintings and artists' books have been exhibited regularly throughout his career, particularly in Paris, including multiple solo and group exhibitions at Galerie Claude Lemand and a 2003 retrospective at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France.
The Black and the Blue. A Mediterranean Dream, MUCEM, Marseille, France|
|2014||Group exhibition, Summary, Part 1, Mathaf Collection, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar|
Tajreed (Arab Abstract Art), Contemporary Art Platform (CAP), Kuwait City, Kuwait |
|2010||Group exhibition, Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar|
Word into Art, British Museum, Dubai, United Arab Emirates|
VIe Biennale Internationale de la Gravure d'Ile-de-France, Versailles, France|
Les effets du voyage: 25 Artistes Algériens, Palais des Congrès et de la Culture de Mans, France |
Benanteur, oeuvres sur papier, Musée National des Beaux-Arts d'Alger, Algiers, Algeria|
Une collection privée, Huiles sur toile, Naha City, Japon |
|Solo exhibition at Centre culturel algérien, Paris, France|
|____||Solo exhibition at Palais des congrés, Brussels, Belgium|
|1985||Group exhibition, Itinéraire d’une galerie, Grenoble, France|
|1984 ||Group exhibition, Arab Heritage, Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia|
|1983||Group exhibition, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Marseille, France|
Les illuminations de Al Hallaj, Lyon, France|
|1981||Group exhibition, L’Atelier, Rabat, Morocco|
|1977 ||Solo exhibition at Palais des Arts et de la Culture, Brest, France|
|1970||Solo exhibition, Engraving Techniques, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France|
|Group exhibition, Biennale de New Delhi, India|
|1967||Group exhibition, Salon de Mayo, Cuba|
|1966||Solo exhibition at Galerie Peintres du Monde, Paris, France|
|1964||Solo exhibition at Galerie Herbinet, Paris, France|
|____||Group exhibition, Exposition Internationale, Algiers, Algeria|
|1963 - 1964||Traveling solo exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark|
|1963||Group exhibition, 3e Biennale de Paris, France|
|____||Group exhibition, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Algiers, Algeria|
|1962||Solo exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale d’Alger, Algiers, Algeria|
|1961||Group exhibition, 2e Biennale de Paris, France|
|1959||Group exhibition, Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, France|
|1958||Solo exhibition at Club des 4 vents, Paris, France|
Awards and Honors
Member of the Committee for Young Engraving (Comité de la Jeune Gravure), National Committee for the Illustrated French Book (Comité National du Livre Illustré Français), and the National Library and the Arsenal Library.
1983 Biella International Prize, Italy
1962 Prix Choquet
Modern Algerian art, painting, artist books, Paris School, School of Signs, abstraction, figuration, poetry, School of Fine Arts Oran.
Artist file, Abdallah Benanteur. Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Abdallah Benanteur Gravures. Algiers: Editions-AEFAB, 1989.
Benanteur. Paris: Galerie Claude Lemand, c. 1991-1994.
Benanteur: Œuvres sur papier. Algiers: Musée national des beaux-arts d'Alger, 1993.
Benanteur, Empreintes d'un cheminement. Paris: Myriam Solal, 1998.
Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East. London: The British Museum Press, 2006.
François Pouillon, "Painting Algerian Society: Exoticism, Modernism, Identity." Trans. Amy Jacobs-Colas. In
Remembering Africa. Ed. Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002): 103-123.