Despite her acclaimed exhibitions across Europe and the US in the 1950s and 1960s, Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid’s name has been heard more at auction houses than at galleries in recent years—she became the Middle East’s highest- selling artist with a $2,741,000-sale at Christie’s Dubai in 2013. We can thank Tate Modern for returning her to the spotlight with the artist’s first UK retrospective.
Born into a notable Ottoman family, Zeid’s relatives included soldiers, diplomats, and a grand vizier. She went on to study painting in Paris after graduating as one of the first female students at Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts.
The Tate Modern exhibition begins with Zeid’s movement from expressionism toward abstraction in the 1940s and 1950s, when she moved from Istanbul to London with her second husband, Prince Zeid Bin al-Hussein of Iraq. Zeid produced her most recognizable abstract works in the 1960s, which also bear similarities to op-art. Her husband’s death in 1970 sparked a return to figurative painting, mostly portraits of aristocratic friends in Jordan, where she died in 1991. Throughout the stages of her career and the genres in which she worked, Zeid’s pieces express a modern fusion of European, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern influences. Her abstract patterns recall both Byzantine mosaics and Islamic, geometric patterns, energized by a twentieth-century rejection of symmetry. Some of her giant canvasses— five-meters wide or more—produce a fractal-like effect by placing various-sized patterns in different areas. This shift in scale also gives an impression of dizzying depth. Other works from her abstract period embody a misted, textured light, as though watching the Bosphorus through steamed glass.
As one of Turkey’s most respected artists, Zeid’s work is on display in several private collections in Istanbul, including Istanbul Modern, Elgiz Museum, and Bozlu Art Project. The Galerist exibition Dark Deep Darkness also includes work by Zeid.
The Tate Modern exhibition runs from June 13–October 8.