Women, birds, fish and plants appear frequently in the shallow and closely cropped spaces of Baya Mahieddine’s paintings. Born as Fatma Haddad but often referred to only as Baya, she learned to paint as a teenager at the Algiers home of Frenchwoman Marguerite Caminat Benhoura and later studied ceramics in Vallauris, France, where she met Pablo Picasso. Benhoura played a key role in Baya’s rise to fame, including her first exhibition, which she showed in 1947, at the age of sixteen, at Paris’ Galerie Maeght, and the subsequent selection of her work by André Breton for the Second Surrealist Exhibition, also in 1947.
Human figures, ornaments and plants painted in bright colors, thick outlining and vibrant patterns dominate many of Baya’s compositions, including The Two Musicians and the untitled work on paper shown here, which was painted three decades later. The Two Musicians was painted just a few years after the conclusion of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), a period during which Baya stopped painting. In these post-war works, she filled her canvases from edge to edge, leaving little empty space in artworks that radiate with the energy of her brushwork and heavy use of blues, reds and yellows. These paintings show spaces in which women gather to play music or for the sake of conversation and good company. Such moments appear throughout much of Baya’s oeuvre and she once said that painting joyful scenes like these offered an antidote to a difficult life and to the personal and social problems she had experienced but did not paint.