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Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Kaleidoscopic Wonders

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Fahrelnissa Zeid’s paintings are not subtle. Her signature abstract works are kaleidoscopic explosions of color, the intricate geometric patterns open a window to the Turkish painter’s inner world. Reinterpreting well-known narratives like the Biblical creation story and Alice in Wonderland, Zeid (1901-1991) combined Islamic, Byzantine, Arab, and Persian influences with expressionistic techniques that arose in post-war Europe. She lived by the philosophy that “the artist belongs neither to a country, nor to a religion,” she told the French writer André Parinaud in 1972. “I was born on this earth. I am made of this matter, and everything that relates to it interests me.”

Born in Istanbul, Zeid was one of the first women to go to art school in the city. After marrying into the Iraqi royal family, she became a leading figure in the 1950s École de Paris abstract art movement, praised by André Breton, and one of the most important female modernists to date. Widely celebrated before her death in 1991, the artist has since been largely neglected by major art institutions — that is, before her retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, which opened in June, and remains on view until October 8. Along with the exhibit, this week the publisher Art/Books released the first biography of the painter, Fahrelnissa Zeid: Painter of Inner Worlds by Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, to bring her work out of the shadows and into the collective consciousness. Click through to see some of Zeid’s work.

Fahrelnissa Zeid: Painter of Inner Worlds
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Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Alice in Wonderland, 1955

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Someone from the Past (Self-portrait), 1980

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Loch Lomond, 1948

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Self-portrait (unfinished), date unknown

Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren/Fahrelnissa Zeid

Octopus of Triton, Riviera, 1953

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life, 1950/1 (originally dated 1962)

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Resolved Problems, 1948

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

My Hell, 1951

Photo: Fahrelnissa Zeid

Fahrelnissa in her Paris studio, in front of the untitled work now in the Tate, early to mid-1950s

Fahrelnissa Zeid’s Kaleidoscopic Wonders