It was in 1947 in Paris at the Gallerie Maeght when Baya Mahieddine took part in her first exhibition. She was just 16, but her vibrant, childlike watercolour paintings had already captured the attention of the world’s most prominent artists.
Despite her young age, the self-taught Algerian artist then went on to become a muse for every artist from Matisse to Andre Breton, and most notably Picasso, whose series The Women of Algiers (that came about eight years later) is said to have been sparked by a fascination with Baya and her unique perspective.
The world she painted was captivating. It was one where men did not exist—a world where the focus was solely on women whose single large eye was described as ‘liberated’ by feminist thought-leaders like Assia Djebbar. The women were ornate and eclectic, featured alongside equally elaborate and colourful birds and fish, painted in a style so different for its time that it turned her into a prodigy.
She was classified as a surrealist, but she hated the label. Her work was not made to be confined to western concepts. It was personal and reflective of her own childhood and not to be looked at through an orientalist eye.
And today, two decades after her death, Google’s Doodle celebrates the late artist’s birthday with an illustration depicting her paintings, featuring two of her iconic one-eyed, liberated, Algerian women.