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Artists' Index
Encyclopedia of Modern Art and Arab World
موســــوعة الفـن الحديـــث والعالــم العربـــي
Artists' Index

Baya Mahieddine

باية محي الدين
Baya Mahieddine
Mehiedine; Mahiedine
​Born in 1931 in Bordj-el-Kifan, Algeria; died on 9 November 1998 in Blida, Algeria.

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Baya Mahieddine


Often referred to only as Baya, the Algerian painter Baya Mahieddine was born as Fatma Haddad, into a poor Kabylie family in Bordj-el-Kifan, near Algiers. Orphaned at age five, B​​aya lived with her grandmother until she was eleven, when she was "discovered" by Marguerite Caminat Benhoura. Benhoura was a Frenchwoman then living in Algiers while working as an archivist at the Muslim Bureau of Charities. Benhoura also painted, and her personal art collection included works by Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. After their meeting, Baya moved into Benhoura's Algiers' home, where she began painting, and Benhoura would often offer feedback to her efforts. Some records suggest that Baya also worked as a servant in the house.

Baya had her first exhibition in 1947, when she was sixteen, at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. Gallery owner Aimé Maeght organized this solo exhibition after seeing Baya's work in Benhoura's home. That same year, Surrealist Group founder André Breton (1896 - 1966) exhibited Baya's work in the Second Surrealist Exhibition. He also wrote the preface for the catalogue for the Galerie Maeght exhibition, Derrière le miroir [Behind the Mirror]. Although Baya never attended a formal art school, Benhoura's connections in France enabled Baya to travel first to Paris and then to Vallauris where she worked on pottery and met Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973). According to some reports, Picasso was interested in her work and recommended that she returns to Algiers.

During the decade following Baya's 1953 marriage in Blida, Algeria, and the birth of her six children, she stopped painting. Significantly, this ten-year period corresponds to the time of Algeria's war for independence from French colonization, which ended in 1962. In her contribution to the 1990 exhibition of Baya, Chaibia, and Fahrelnissa at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Franco-Algerian author Assia Djebar imagined Baya's life and hardships during these ten years, which Djebar calls "this forced retreat into tradition, […] this return to the abodes of women who do not go out, who give birth, who wait." In 1963, Baya began painting again and exhibiting both new and old work in Paris and Algiers.

As Ranjana Khanna has noted, Baya's paintings focus almost exclusively on moments of encounter. Women, birds, and vegetation are frequent and recurrent motifs throughout her oeuvre. Subjects are often depicted in shallow spaces in paintings characterized by allover patterning and rendered in bright primary colors. When asked why she chose to paint happy scenes, Baya explained that this was due to the unhappiness in her life. In Khanna's interpretation, painting provided a form of therapy for the artist and this unhappiness–frequently overlooked in much writing about Baya–haunts her entire oeuvre.

Since her first exhibition in 1947, Baya has occupied a complex place within twentieth century art history. Her early fame and popularity illuminate the overlap between French colonizers in North Africa and the European artistic avant-garde. Despite their frequently opposed political perspectives--Breton, for example, became an outspoken critic of colonialism following the 1921 - 1926 Rif War in Morocco and, in 1931, organized an Anti-Colonial Exhibition in response to the Colonial Exhibition held that year in Paris--both groups celebrated her work as "naïve," "primitive," and "childlike.”​ With its references to 1001 Nights and the artist's purity and its linking the "Muslim world" to the European Middle Ages, Breton's 1947 text indicates the pervasive hold of Orientalist stereotypes in the early reception of self-taught artists whom Europeans claimed to have discovered in their colonies. In addition, these accounts deny any European influence, even though Baya painted alongside the French Benhoura, traveled to, and exhibited in, Paris, and studied in Vallauris.

Following Algeria's independence, Baya was marginalized by the country's official painting scene, which at the time privileged social realist imagery. Government documents placed her at the bottom of its hierarchy, in the group "painters of spontaneous popular expression," rather than listing her with the Aouchem group, with which she was in fact also affiliated. The Aouchem group, whose name means "Tattoos," was founded by Algerian artists Denis Martinez and Choukri Mesli and also included Mohamed Ben Baghdad and Mustapha Akmoun. The group exhibited together between 1967 and 1971. Baya died in Blida, Algeria, in 1998.


​2​014 ​Summary, Part 1, Mathaf Collection, Mathaf: A​rab Museum of Modern Art,  Doha, Qatar
​2010 ​Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
​2003 ​Group exhibition, The Twentieth Century in Algerian Art, Château Borély, Marseille, France; Orangerie du Sénat, Paris, France
​2000 ​Solo exhibition, Baya, Centre d’études africaines (EHESS-CNRS), Paris, France
1995 Group exhibition, Les effets du voyage: 25 artistes algériens, Palais des Congrès et de la Culture de Mans, France
​1994​ ​Group exhibition, Forces of Change: Artists from the Arab World, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., U.S.A
1990 ​Group exhibition, Wafabank, Casablanca, Morocco
____ Group exhibition, Musée de l’Institut du monde arabe, Paris, France
​1989 ​Group exhibition, Galerie Ipso, Brussels, Belgium
​____ ​Group exhibition, Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Barbican Concourse Gallery, London, England
1988 Group exhibition, Bonjour Picasso, Musée Picasso, Antibes, France 
1987 - 1988      Group exhibition, Algérie, expressions multiples, Musée des arts africains et océaniens, Paris, France
​1987 ​Group exhibition, Galerie Muhammad Issiakhem, Algiers, Algeria
1985 Solo exhibition, Galerie de l’Aurassi, Algiers, Algeria 
____ ​Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Oran, Algeria 
1984 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
____ Solo exhibition, Centre culturel algérien, Paris, France 
____ Group exhibition, Centre culturel communal, Aubagne, France
1983 Group exhibition, Galerie de l’union nationale des arts plastiques, Algiers, Algeria
1982-3 Solo exhibition, Baya, Musée Cantini, Marseille, France
1982 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
1980 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
1979 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
1978 Solo exhibition, Galerie Muhammad Racim, Algiers, Algeria
____ Group exhibition, Galerie Muhammad Racim, Algiers, Algeria
1977 Solo exhibition, Maison de la culture, Tizi Ouzou, Algeria
1976 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
1974 ​Group exhibition, Galerie de l'union nationale des arts plastiques, Algiers, Algeria
​____  ​Group exhibition, Galerie Muhammad Racim, Algiers, Algeria
Group exhibition, Galerie des 4 Colonnes, Algiers, Algeria
1971 Group exhibition, Galerie de l’union nationale des arts plastiques, Algiers, Algeria
1969 Solo exhibition, Peintures et sculptures de Baya, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
____ Group exhibition, Galerie de l’union nationale des arts plastiques, Algiers, Algeria
1967 Solo exhibition, Centre culturel français, Algiers, Algeria
____ Group exhibition, Galerie de l’union nationale des arts plastiques, Algiers, Algeria
1966 ​Solo exhibition, Galerie Pilote, Algiers, Algeria
1964 Group exhibition, Peintres algériens, Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris, France
​____ ​Group exhibition, Galerie 54, Algiers, Algeria 
​1963 ​Group exhibition, Salle Ibn Khaldoun, Algiers, Algeria
1950​ Group exhibition, Salle de l’Alhambra, Maison de l’Artisanat, Algiers, Algeria
1947 Solo exhibition, Galerie Adrien Maeght, Paris, France


Modern Algerian art, painting, art naïf, Aouchem, Surrealism, women artists, national identity.


Artist file, Baya. Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

Becker, Cynthia. "Exile, Memory, and Healing in Algeria: Denis Martinez and La fenêtre du vent." African Arts (summer 2009): 24-31.

Breton, André. Derrière le miroir, Paris: Editions Aimé Maeght, 1947.

Djebar, Assia. "Le Combat de Baya." Trois Femmes Peintres: Baya, Chaibia, Fahrelnissa. Paris: Institut du monde arabe, 1990.

Khanna, Ranjanna. "Latent Ghosts and the Manifesto: Baya, Breton and reading for the future." Art History 26.2 (April 2003): 238-280.

Pouillon, François. "Painting Algerian Society: Exoticism, Modernism, Identity." Trans. Amy Jacobs-Colas. In Remembering Africa. Ed. Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi. (Portsmoth, NH: Heinemann, 2002):103-123.

​Signes et désert. Dessins et peintures. Baya, Arezki, Silem, Koraichi, Martinez, Mesli. Brussels: IPSO, 1989.

Further Reading

Algérie, expressions multiples. Paris: Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens, 1987.

Baya. Marseille: Musée Cantini, 1982.

Peintres algériens. Paris: Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1964.

Peintures et sculptures de Baya. Algiers: Centre Culturel Français, 1969.​​