Fahrelnissa Zeid: Why the Istanbul painter is considered "one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century"

adminJanuary 7, 2019

Google remembers the talented artist Fahrelnissa Zeid today with a Google Doodle on what would be her 118th birthday.

Born in Istanbul, Turkey on January 7, 1901, Zeid began to show a talent for painting when she was young – and later became one of the first women to attend the Art Academy in Istanbul.

It was this opportunity and her experiences later in life that inspired Zeid in her art – most recognizable, large abstract kaleidoscope paintings influenced by Islamic and Byzantine art.

After continuing with the studies in Paris, where she understood her skills under the guidance of painter Roger Bissière, Zeid married Zeid Al-Hussein of the hashim royal family in Iraq in 1935.

Based in Baghdad with her new family, Zeid split her time between Paris, London, Berlin and Istanbul – where she became involved in the avant-garde scenes that were at that time, like the Turkish d-group.

Her work, often a mixture of Eastern and Western influences, was considered throughout her lifetime, and she regularly appeared in Paris and London – despite the fact that she did not intend to become an abstract painter.

But Zeid's privilege as she knew it was cut in 1958 after a military coup in Iraq, which resulted in the killing of the royal family apart from herself and her husband.

Despite the difficulties encountered later in life, Zeid continued to do what she loved – create – and in 1975 she followed the dreams of helping other women do so by opening an art school for women in Amman, Jordan, The Royal National Jordanian Institute Fahrelnissa Seed or Fine Arts.

Zeid died in 1991, when her influence on the art world was gone – until 2017 when Tate Modern in London organized an exhibition of her abstract paintings to ensure that she was not a female artist forgotten by the story.

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The retrospective exhibition referred to Zeid as "one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century" – a testament to her ability to inspire even after her death.

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