Modern art in Algeria was influenced by the country’s earlier artistic traditions, including local pottery, metalwork, embroidery, weaving, glasswork, and jewelry design. It was also inspired by Arab, Amazigh, African, and Islamic traditions and motifs. Artists in the mid-20th century often experimented with combining local forms and elements with international styles, such as Impressionism, Cubism and Abstraction, creating unique movements and localized modes of expression.
They also pursued the formulation of a distinct national identity within the arts through the study and revival of local heritage. In 1964—two years after Algeria achieved independence—artist Mohammed Khadda wrote “There are so many of our culture’s treasures that must be brought to light, from the enigmatic Tassili frescoes to the humble murals of the Ouadhias tribe. We must inventory the symbolism of rugs and pottery in secular colors and signs, and that of calligraphy, miniatures, illuminations.”
Celebrate Algeria's rich artistic heritage and dive into the works of some of its most prolific modern artists.
To Monet. Giverny by Abdallah BenanteurBarjeel Art Foundation
Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998)
Baya Mahieddine, born Fatima Haddad in a suburb of Algiers, was orphaned at the age of five and sent to live with her grandmother. They both worked at a roserie (rose nursery) until Baya was adopted by Marguerite Caminat Benhoura.
Baya is known for an oeuvre that depicts women in a world without men. Most of her paintings show magical encounters between women, animals and nature.
She is also known for her bold use of colour and pattern, reminiscent of the embroidered motifs in traditional Algerian dresses.
In 1967, she became the only woman signatory of the Aouchem manifesto (meaning tattoo), which advocated for a decolonization of culture and a revival of local artistic traditions.
Femme aux Deux Paons Avec Aquarium by BayaBarjeel Art Foundation
Mohamed Issiakhem (1928-1985)
Mohamed Issiakhem was a leading proponent of Algeria’s modernist and anti-colonial movements in art. In this work, we see a woman dressed in traditional Amazigh garb and jewellery. Amazighs are an ethnic group, indeginous to some parts of North Africa.
Her gaze is haunting, and she appears almost ghostlike. Her somber figure embodies the suffering and hardships experienced by people during the Algerian War of Independence.
Graffiti on the wall behind her reads “OAS” and “FLN”, standing for the “Organisation armée secrète” (Secret Army Organisation) and “Front de libération nationale” (The National Liberation Front)
A hand print on a wall, recalling the popular palm-shaped amulet, known as khamsah (five) in the Arab World. Depicting the open right hand, it is believed to be a sign of protection and defense against the evil eye.
Femme et Mur (Woman and Wall) by M'hammed IssiakhemBarjeel Art Foundation
Abdel Kader Guermaz (1919-1996)
A key figure in Algeria’s modern art movement, Abdel Kader Guermaz began his practice painting outdoors scenes, streets and markets, and in the 1950s began experimenting with abstraction.
Many of his works are rooted in poetry, spirituality, and mysticism. This painting is entitled Rêve (Dream), indicating his interest in nonmaterial themes and inner states.
This composition can be read as an abstract landscape, incorporating stylized shapes and colours of Algeria’s vibrant streets.
Abdel Kader Guermaz was a master at harmoniously combining vibrant colours with pastel tones.
Rêve (Dream) by Abdulkader GuermazBarjeel Art Foundation
Mohammed Khadda (1930-1991)
Mohammed Khadda was one of the founders of modern art in Algeria, and an active participant in a movement called "School of the Sign" that used forms from Tifinagh and Arabic scripts.
In this work, a floating sign appears against a yellow backdrop. This quasi-calligraphic shape is evocative of pictograms or asemic writing, and is illegible to the viewer.
Abstraction vert sur fond orange (Green Abstraction on Orange Background) resembles a desert landscape with traditional flat-roofed North African buildings.
Lined up, as if on a horizon, these minimalist white cubes become part of a local architectural topography.
Continue zooming into Mohammed Khadda's works here.
Abstraction vert sur fond orange by Mohammed KhaddaBarjeel Art Foundation