Talented Algerian Artist Mohammed Racim

Visitors to Algeria’s art museums, such as the magnificent National Gallery of Fine Arts in Algiers, are likely to come across the works of talented Algerian artist Mohammed Racim (1896-1975), the founder of the school of miniature painting that still exists in Algeria today. In addition to being an accomplished artist, Racim was known for using his art to promote pride in his fellow Algerians and to encourage them to pursue independence during the time when the country was a French territory.

Born in Algiers on 24 June 1896, Mohammed Racim’s family were all artistic, and his talent for drawing was revealed during his primary school education when he was given the task of copying decorative Islamic motifs during a state workshop organized by the French Governor General of Algeria, Charles Jonnart. Originally of Turkish descent, the family’s property was confiscated by the French regime. Undaunted, Racim’s father established a copper working and woodcarving workshop in the Kasbah of the city. There his brother Omar Racim carried out the engraving of decorative tombstones, which led to the family being commissioned to embellish public buildings during French colonial rule.

Upon discovering miniature paintings created by Persian, Mughal and Andalusian artists for Muslim nobility, Racim embraced this style of painting, adding his own artistic expression, including traditional motifs and calligraphic forms. During his teenage years, Racim came in contact with and befriended French orientalist painter Nasreddine Dinet who encouraged his talent and assisted him in obtaining commissions to embellish books with his superbly crafted calligraphic plates.

His ability to artistically recreate an era prior to the arrival of the French colonists made Mohammed Racim a prominent figure in Algerian culture. In his works the indigenous people of Algeria are depicted in fine clothing and are engaged in cultural activities, indicating a high level of prosperity, which some critics saw as a suggestion that these were lost when the French arrived. However, Racim was known to acknowledge that his work had come about because of the presence of the French in Algeria. Whatever his motivation, or the interpretation of his work by others, Mohammed Racim’s artistic talent is clearly evident in his work.