The Painters of the City: North Africa 1880-1920

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Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies

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The Painters of the City: North Africa 1880-1920

An exhibition by Professor William Gallois

An Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies exhibition
Date9 May - 3 September 2019
TimeEvent spans several days
PlaceInstitute of Arabic and Islamic Studies

This exhibition explores a mystery which also constitutes a unique moment in the history of art. In the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, new forms of painting emerged on and around buildings in cities and towns across north Africa. They were identifiably related to existing cultural forms – especially tattoos , textiles and jewellery – but their sudden appearance in the form of murals and frescoes was unprecedented.

In the case of all of the sites described in this exhibition, the works were impermanent, rarely lasting more than a decade or two. They were all produced anonymously, and none have excited any subsequent notice or interest. Who created these works, why were they made and what can they teach us?

In order to answer these questions, the exhibition also describes the conditions of life across the region. Each of the territories covered was invaded by a European power (Algeria in 1830, Tunisia in 1880, Morocco and Libya in 1911) and in each case annihilatory regimes were established which destroyed indigenous peoples, their cultures, their habitats and their lifeways.

The revolutionary forms of art which emerged were responses to these brutal new forms of governance. They took existing aesthetic and spiritual amuletic forms which were designed to safeguard individual bodies and homes, extending their scope into the collective, public sphere so as to save communities of believers across cities and the world. While such work was produced anonymously we can be sure that it was made by women, who had long held special aesthetic-religious responsibilities in north Africa. Protective art made by women was imbued with unique force in both Muslim and Jewish communities, and amongst Berbers, Tuaregs and Arabs. While their paintings may have long since faded (or been erased), what we might now learn from the artists of the city and their forgotten works?

The evolution of the exhibition can be followed on:

Enquiries to: William Gallois:

ProviderInstitute of Arab and Islamic Studies

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