Atef Maatallah’s Personality-Driven Portraits of Tunisian Society

by Roxanne GoldbergPosted on

Tunisian artist Atef Maatallah paints people on grainy, monotone backgrounds to highlight the inner worlds of his characters. Maatallah often paints diptychs, in which one panel features only a single object such as a tea pot or small animal. Purposely separated from the human figures, the objects serve as outer manifestations of the peoples’ fears or desires. For example, an elderly woman with sun-baked sunken cheeks watches with a solemn expression as the feathers of a skinned bird — its’ complexion the same color as the woman’s — float downwards. In another image, a forlorn mother looks down as her two children sleep; one in her arms, the other slouched against her back. In the background, a bare light bulb hangs. The light is out.

Though the majority of Maatallah’s images are plagued with sorrow, he offers moments of hope, particularly in those adorned with royal blue jelly fish and hopping green frogs. It is notable however, that these paintings are exclusive to male subjects, thus revealing the disparity between opportunities and fates for men and women in the artist’s home country. It may be assumed the political statements wrought within the artworks are intentional, as Maatallah is a member of the arts collective “Politics” and has produced works for the public sphere.

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