Google pays homage to Algerian artist Mohammed Issiakhem

The innovative painter is the latest cultural personality to receive the online distinction

A handout image of Femme et Mur (n.d.) (Woman and Wall)
oil on canvas 162 x 130 cm by Mohammed Issiakhem (Algeria 1928 – 1985) for Sky over The East exhibition by Sharjah's Barjeel Foundation at Emirates Palace (Courtesy: Barjeel Art Foundation) NOTE: For Anna Seaman's feature in Arts & Life

The life of Mohammed Issiakhem has been celebrated in the form of a Google doodle.

The innovative painter is the latest Arab cultural personality to receive the doodle today – a feature on the Google home page in which the search engine’s name is augmented with an image highlighting a particular person or historical event.

Previously, Egyptian poet Farouk Shousha, Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and Lebanese diva Sabah received the online distinction.

The latest nod from Google, which reportedly processes over 3.5 billion search requests per day, will no doubt shed light on Issiakhem’s innovative work and one of the leaders of Algeria’s arts scene from its early years post-independence in the 1960s to his death 23 years go.

Born in the city of Tizi Ouzou in north central Algeria, Issiakhem grew up during the time the allied forces invaded Algeria (colonised by the French at the time) as part of World World Two.

A major turning point in his life arrived when as a 15-year-old he stumbled upon an American military truck. What he thought was a metallic toy was in fact a grenade and the explosion resulted in Issiakhem losing most of his left hand.

Arts critics suggested the shock surrounding the incident informed his work ever since with his evocative abstract paintings betraying a sense of anger and tragedy. Males were often detailed in morose and sombre colours; while women –  such as in the case of the famous work homage to Katia – looked emotionally overwrought.

Issiakhem worked almost solely in Algeria. In 1962, he was the cartoonist for the daily newspaper Alger Republican. A year later, he was one of the founders of the National Union of Plastic Arts in addition to running painting workshops at the School of Fine Arts in Algiers.

A whole generation of Algerians also grew up with Issiakhem’s work, perhaps unwittingly so as he also designed Algeria’s bank notes from 1965 to 1982 in addition to supervising the building of a fresco at Algiers Airport.

The final decade of his life found Issiakhem returning to newspaper caricatures in addition to being honoured by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1980 for his contribution to African Art.

He passed away from cancer in 1985 at the age of 57.


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