One of the reasons why I liked Orhan Pamuk‘s famous book My name is Red, which I mentioned here, was the fact its main characters were Ottoman miniaturists who viewed their art, philosophically, as the perfect art; and who competed with their Persian counterparts and European painters who practised a different art.
Mohamed Racim (born 24 June 1896, Algiers – died 30 March 1975, Elbiar, Algiers) was born into an artists family. Both his father and uncle owned a wood-carving and copper-working workshop in The Casbah. Mohamed and his (un)equally famous brother, Omar Racim, worked in the workshop and there they learn the bases of their art.
The reader can get a lot of information, mostly in French, from the internet (example here). I will therefore not go through the details in this post. It is however worth mentioning that Racim made the ornamentations of several of his friend Nasrdeddine Etienne Dinet‘s books including Mohammed’s Life. He also created the decorations of Mardrus‘s Arabian Nights.
Mohamed Racim received several awards such as a scholarship from La Casa de Velasquez, the gold medal from the Society of French Orientalist Painters and the Grand Prix Artistique d’Algérie. He taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Algiers and was an honorary member of The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers. After Algeria’s independence, he became an advisor to the minister of culture.
Racim’s miniatures depict the Algerian society and people before the French colonisation (1830). The people are shown to be prosperous, wearing fine costumes, etc. It was reported that he has told his friend Louis Gillet that he learnt he wasn’t French only at the age of 15, before which he had always believed he was French. It may be, like argued by Roger Benjamin, that “Racim’s work could be said to wish away the presence of the foreign French settlers in his country”.
Mohamed Racim and his Swedish wife, Karine Bondeson, were assassinated in El Biar in 1975. The crime hasn’t been solved as of today.
The work of Mohamed Racim has been compiled in La Vie Musulmane d’Hier (1960) and Mohamed Racim miniaturiste algérien (1972). You can find his miniatures here; and in the below video, you can see some of them while enjoying El Badji‘s El Maqnine Ezzine sung by Chaabi master Boudjemaa El Ankis.