Mahjoub Ben Bella's son tells us about his father: 'He could transform negative energy into brilliant art'

Dalloul Art Foundation

Nadjib Ben Bella, son of the Algerian artist who died last month, shares with Myrna Ayad his father's process of releasing emotion through creative expression. This first-person account is based on their interview.

Amid blaring musical medleys that ranged from the ballads of Umm Kulthum to the compositions of Mozart and others, my father purged the memories of a tumultuous childhood on to his large, vibrant canvases. I knew that his demons came out at night and I could not help but admire his aptitude at transforming negative energy into brilliant artworks.
That way, he created an equilibrium, both in his psyche and his art. A nocturnal creature, his bad dreams deterred him from enough sleep. It was clear to my mother, sister and me that my father had something he needed to release. It was evident in the strength that emanated from his paintings. They radiated with a power that is undeniable.
My father spent his formative years in Maghnia and Oran, Algeria, where some of his happiest memories were made. In 1960, the family fled during the war and took refuge in Oujda, in Morocco. Sometimes, my father would share a few heartrending memories with us - fleeing the French army, the sounds of the bombs, escaping to Morocco on foot. He would often say that when you experience war, it stays with you forever. The move was traumatic, the family became impoverished and my father's recollections from that time were desolate.
July 9, 2020
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