Baya Revisited: Identity Expression and the Insights of Art Therapy

By C. Wakaba Futamura.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A self-taught Algerian painter, Baya Mahieddine (born Fatma Haddad) has received praise and commentary from French writers, such as André Breton, Frank Maubert, and Jean Pélégri, who perceived her distinguished artwork as both pioneering and nostalgic. As indicated in their essays in Baya: Gouaches 1947, they have classified her pictures as “naïve,” “primitive,” and “art brut.” Yet in the article “Latent Ghosts and the Manifesto,” Ranjana Khanna defends the “singularity” of Baya’s work against the “art-historical,” “colonialist,” “psychoanalytic,” and “nationalist” terminologies that critics have used to define her art (“Latent Ghosts” 272, 243).
Baya’s paintings have thus encouraged dialogue concerning art genres, post- and anticolonial critiques, post-World War II political movements, feminist theories, and psychoanalytic readings. In each case, the discourse yielded various interpretations of the original quality of her works. Nonetheless, certain mysteries have remained unresolved. Baya suffered a tumultuous upbringing consisting of destitution and orphanhood before the age of twelve. Yet why does Baya’s artwork largely appear to reflect a vibrant and joyful community of women rather than the darkness of tragedy that had marked her childhood? Additional peculiarities include the lack of visible sadness, notion of “horreur du vide” (“fear of emptiness”), depiction of maternal embraces, and absence of male figures. How do the social, cultural, and political contexts surrounding her existence explain these characteristics?
This article revisits Baya with the intention of addressing these questions and deconstructing her “over-scripted” name (Khanna, “Latent Ghosts” 243). By investigating her biographical history, it seeks to re-situate her works within her sociocultural background and undo generalities associated with her paintings. And by considering the insights of feminist art therapy and psychotherapy, this analysis aims to restore her subjectivity. Thus incorporating visual arts, psychology, identity expression, and Francophone studies, this interdisciplinary research initiative generates a new understanding of Baya’s gouaches.

Keywords: Baya Mahieddine, Painting, Art Therapy, Identity, Algeria

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp.73-82. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 623.876KB).

Dr. C. Wakaba Futamura

Visiting Assistant Professor of French, Department of Modern Languages, Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA, USA

Dr. Futamura is a Visiting Assistant Professor of French at Susquehanna University and currently teaches introductory and intermediate French, and junior and capstone courses on French and Francophone literatures and cultures. Her academic interests are in French and Francophone Studies, with an emphasis on North Africa. Her interdisciplinary research examines the intersection of women and gender studies and the visual arts in the Francophone world. Recent publications include the entries “Baya Mahieddine” and “Hélé Béji” in the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. She is presently working on revising and preparing her dissertation “Crossing Frames of Art and Identity: Baya, Cixous, and Béji” for publication in article and/or book form.


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