Fahrelnissa Zeid’s masterpiece My Hell 1951, not seen in the UK since her solo exhibition at the The Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1954, is now on display at Tate Modern.

Zeid pinned the 5.2 metre long painting across the corner of her studio while working on it – a practical approach, which also fulfilled her desire to encounter painting as an all-encompassing environment.

This monumental work, on loan from Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, emphasizes the power of geometry and colour to create a particular state of mind between order and chaos. Two black voids occupy a central position in the composition and diverse formations in red, white, grey and yellow emanate from these points, seemingly spinning and colliding in undulating waves.

Zeid - My Hell

My Hell 1951 Istanbul Museum of Modern Art Collection, Shirin Devrim and Prince Raad Donation (Istanbul, Turkey) © Istanbul Museum of Modern Art © Raad Zeid Al-Hussein

The repetition of simple geometric shapes and areas of vibrant colour bounded by black lines are reminiscent of Ottoman stained-glass windows, mosaics and glass lanterns. This monumental and immersive painting reveals how Zeid fused the repetition of geometric forms found in Islamic art and architecture with ideas about abstraction circulating in post-war Europe.

Never before seen archival material shows the princess behind the paintings

The items from Fahrelnissa Zeid’s personal archive, many of which have never been seen before, provide unique insights into her personal and professional trajectory as an artist, a mother and a princess.

Zeid in her first Paris studio

Zeid in her first Paris studio at 10, Rue Jean-Bart, 1949-50
Necmi Sönmez Archive. © Association Willy Maywald / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

The materials, which span her long life and document her time in Istanbul, Paris, Berlin, Baghdad, London, New York and Amman, reveal an artist enjoying great success, struggling with personal tragedies and juggling her own personal ambitions with the responsibilities of being a mother, member of the Iraqi royal family and a diplomat’s wife.

The objects include notebooks, a typed biography on Iraqi Embassy letterhead, a rare print portfolio, exhibition invitation cards and catalogues, as well as period photographs of Zeid posing with important figures including the Queen Mother.

The inclusion of these items in the UK’s first retrospective of Fahrelnissa Zeid offers a rare chance for visitors to experience the context behind her extraordinary works.

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