When Fatma Haddad Became “Baya”—a Paris Art Story

1 April, 2024
Baya was among the first Algerian artists to be recognized by the art world in Paris. Though considered naïve in style, her work endures.


Naima Morelli


When thinking of North African artists working in Paris in the 20th-century, the name of Baya was the first that came to my mind.

Born Fatma Haddad (1931-1998) on the poor outskirts of Algiers, her fate changed dramatically when Marguerite Camina Benhoura, a French intellectual residing in Algeria, took her under her wing. Baya’s artistic genius was immediately recognized by the avant-garde of Paris, which was looking for a kind of art that was primitive, joyous, and free.

Baya’s canvas and paintings on cardboard are inhabited by women in traditional clothing, walking in lush landscapes and gardens, often surrounded by animals. Her fierce creatures reflected the artist’s own independent spirit.

Despite her brilliance, Baya has been cast for years as an outsider in the art world, and her spontaneous style dismissed as naïve. This vision has changed in the past few years, thanks to exhibitions such as Baya, icône de la peinture algérienne. Femmes en leur Jardin, at the Arab World Institut in Paris (2023-2022) and the Centre de la Vieille Charité in Marseille. Her work was also on display in the 2022 Venice Biennale.

The artist didn’t sit for many interviews in her lifetime, but a lot has been written about her. In this short story, I wanted to focus on this aspect. While the words written on Baya are mostly from others, her figures spoke for themselves. And the language they speak never ceases to be mysterious and captivating to this day.

Further exploration:
Radio France podcast, “Baya (1931-1998), une peintre algérienne derrière le miroir du post-colonialisme.”
Baya, Woman of Algiers,” Grey Art Gallery.
Baya Mahieddine, the Artist Who Influenced Picasso,” SL Daily.


Naima Morelli is an arts writer and journalist specialized in contemporary art from Asia-Pacific and the MENA region. She has written for the Financial Times, Al-Jazeera, The Art Newspaper, ArtAsiaPacific, Internazionale and Il Manifesto, among others, and she is a regular contributor to Plural Art Mag, Middle East Monitor and Middle East Eye as well as writing curatorial texts for galleries. She is the author of three books on Southeast Asian contemporary art. She is a also graphic novelist. She is a regular contributor to The Markaz Review.

Albert CamusAlgerian artistAndré BretonDubuffetpaintingParisPicasso

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