An interior view of Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine (1931 — 1998) will be under the spotlight and her works displayed for the first time in a survey show dedicated to her, at the Sharjah Art Museum (Feb. 24 — July 31), as part of Sharjah Museums Authority’s (SMA) Lasting Impressions series.
Works from Mahieddine’s first solo exhibition in Paris (1947) are among over 70 paintings spanning her six decade career, which will be showcased.
Considered one of Algeria’s most acclaimed artists, the artist contributed to modern art in her homeland and also in Paris. While she did not self-identify as belonging to a particular genre, critics have classified her paintings as surrealist, primitive, naïve, and modern. Her works are mainly paintings, though she did pottery as well, all completely self-taught.
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At the age of sixteen, she had her first exhibition in Paris, where she won notice from renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso and Andre Breton.
In her gouaches dominated by vibrant colours, she often paints silhouettes of women and their clothes, belts and veils, figures of the enigmatic mother and different domestic objects. The objects surrounding the ladies are devoid of any shadow.
The artwork largely appear to reenact a vibrant and joyful community of women. The sinuous contours of the figures in her gouaches offer unique representations of flora and fauna, and portray unusual animals, such as flying rabbits and camel-sized birds, that might emerge from Scheherazade’s stories, from The Thousand and One Nights.
In her paintings, sculptures and pottery, she also incorporated the shapes she derived from her childhood imagination and stories. They include flowers and animals such as butterflies, birds and fish, among others. The character of her work grew from the surroundings she grew up in Algeria. Music also had an impact on her art. Instruments her husband used, appeared in her paintings.
The bold colours and strange figures reveal surrealist and dream-like qualities, inspired artists such as Georges Braque and Picasso and Breton, who defined her work as surrealism - this view was widely held for a long time.
The reason why he considered it so stemmed, according to critics, due to its radical departure from the perspectives of the time, including Orientalism and the exoticisation of the world that Mahieddine, the woman and artist, came from.
Breton’s enthusiastic reception and encomium of Mahieddine and her work is expressed in his 1947 essay Baya: “I speak not as others have, to deplore an ending, but rather to promote a beginning, and at this beginning, Baya is queen.
“The beginning of an age of emancipation and of agreement, in radical rupture with the preceding era, one of whose principal levers for man might be the systematic, always increasing impregnation of nature.
“The beginnings of this age lie with Charles Fourier, the new impetus has just been furnished by Malcolm of Chazal. But for the rocket that launches the new age, I propose the name Baya.
“Baya, whose mission is to reinvigorate the meaning of those beautiful nostalgic words: happy Arabia. Baya holds and rekindles the golden bough.” Her work was presented in various exhibitions in France and Algeria, and has appeared on Algerian postage stamps.
“We are honoured to be the first cultural venue in the region to organise and curate this special solo exhibition and highlight the inspiring life of Baya and her whimsical, vibrant style of work, that reflects deep ideas and her ability to create an emotionally expressive world that draws the viewer in,” said Manal Ataya, Director General of SMA.
Lasting Impressions is an annual exhibition that was launched in 2010. It is organised by SMA at Sharjah Art Museum and the exhibition provides either the first or most comprehensive show of a given artist from the Arab world, showcasing their contributions to the region’s art scene.
Artists whose works have been shown include, Adam Henein, Najat Mekky, Noor Ali Rashid and Ismail Shammout.
Also, a virtual workshop that examined the life and accomplishments of Arab mathematician, astronomer and physicist of the Islamic Golden Age, Ḥasan Ibn Al Haytham, was hosted at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization.
Held on Jan. 30 as part of SMA’s monthly online events, the one-hour workshop was designed for children age six and their families.
The programme kicked off with the life story of al-Haytham, who is referred to as the father of modern optics, followed by highlights of his achievements and scientific experiments involving light and vision.
Participants learned about different collections on display at the Ibn Al Haytham Gallery of Science and Technology hall, focusing on works of numerous Islamic scholars and inventors in various fields, including architecture, nautical navigation, medicine, geometry and chemistry.
Objects showcased included miniature models of Islamic landmarks such as Shehzade Mosque in Istanbul, Qalawun Hospital in Cairo and Sultan Bayezid Hospital in Edrine, Turkey, which used music in the treatment of people with mental disorders.
Also on display were models of fortresses and military equipment once used in the past to provide protection, such as trebuchets, crossbows, torpedoes and Ottoman rockets. At the close, participants learned about a range of Al Haytham’s experiments involving optics.
In addition to its monthly line up of workshops and lectures, which were introduced to keep audiences engaged, SMA has showcased paintings and sculptures by renowned artists in the Middle East such as Abdul Qader Al Rais, Louay Kayali, Bashir Sinwar, Faiq Hassan, Mohammed Yusuf and Ismail Fatah Al Turk.
The panel talk, featuring Italian children’s book illustrator Nicolette Bertelle and Emirati illustrator Alia Al Badi, demonstrated how artists transform stories and text into arresting images and exciting visual material, to engage young readers.
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