Baya, Femme au paon, 1947. Gouache on paper; 62.8 x 47.7 cm. Collection Sharjah Art Foundation


Self-taught artist Baya (Mahieddine), born Fatima Haddad, is best known for her colourful work depicting women, animals (or animal-like creatures), vegetation and musical instruments. Encompassing pottery, drawing and painting, her work often draws on traditional folkloric patterns.

Orphaned at the age of five, Baya was raised in Algeria by her grandmother. At 11, she was adopted by Marguerite Caminat Benhoura, a wealthy art patron who provided Baya with her first art materials and home schooling. Aimé Maeght saw some of her small clay figurines and drawings at Benhoura’s house, and he and André Breton organised the first exhibition of her work in 1947 at his Galerie Maeght in Paris. Her early work was lauded by such artists as Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who considered Baya as one of his influences.

Recent exhibitions of Baya’s work include Baya: Woman of Algiers, NYU Grey Art Gallery, New York (2018); The Twentieth Century in Algerian Art, Château Borély, Marseille, and Orangerie du Sénat, Paris (2003); Baya, Centre d’études africaines (EHESS-CNRS), Paris (2000); Les effets du voyage: 25 artistes algérians, Palais des Congrès et de la Culture de Mans, France (1995); and Forces of Change: Artists from the Arab World, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (1994).