Atef Maatallah

  • Biography

    Maatallah Atef/ م.ع.

    Born 1981 in Al Fahs, Tunisia, Atef Maatallah lives and works between Tunis and Paris.

    Atef Maatallah graduated in 2004 from the Institute of Fine Arts of Tunis with an MA specializing in sculpture. Since 2010, Maatallah has exhibited regularly with Elmarsa gallery in Tunis and Dubai, and occasionally in Paris like at Galerie Talmart. His work is held in public and private collections in Tunisia, France, and the larger Middle East, including the collection of the Tunisian Ministry of Culture. He was a founding member of El Maamel, an artists' collective that produced commissioned projects for public and private spaces. In addition, he was a colorist for the animated film El Mrayet (2011), directed by Nadia Rais. He has also been an active member of the arts collective Politics since 2012. From 2013 to 2014 Maatallah participated in a yearlong residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris, and in 2014 was included in the Singapore biennale curated by Catherine David at Singapore Art Fair. He was awarded the second prize at the Paris Contemporary Drawing Fair D.Dessin 2015.

    Maatallah's figurative paintings and drawings reflect a sense of longing, cultivated in part by the use of individuals from his childhood in Al Fahs. Although specific people have inspired some of the figures, they are also rendered as anonymous characters that create a universal recognition in the viewer. The figures are accompanied by objects, which through their ephemeral appearance, hint at the personalities of the people or the tenuousness of their social conditions. A teapot suspended by a thread; two cigarette lighters hovering on a plane, one lit and one unlit; and dry leaves blown through space by an unseen wind reference the insecurity of the lived realities of these figures.

    Maatallah revisits the codes of narrative figuration through a rigorous illustration of everyday images and characters whose haunting glances evoke an air of transience. Often working on the reverse of the canvas or on drawing paper, the artist achieves a purposeful grainy flatness in the backgrounds of the works. This quality is contrasted by contours of shadow and light in the subjects that affords them a stunning luminosity. Through this sensitive rendering Maatallah illuminates the radiance of everyday people and the significance of their quotidian interactions. His works gesture towards the precarity of the social realities lived by people he encounters in his life and in his memories. The tender rendition of the characters emphasizes a universal relatability, where their visages evoke the feeling that we as viewers have each seen them somewhere before, and that we will see them again.


    Visual art generates a celebration of the self through its surroundings, lived spaces, families, friends, face, and daily objects. This is how visual art draws its impact from reality, drafting poetry of daily affairs, merging the form and the background through an eccentric approach that leaves room for humour within practice.

    The new series, Automne, represents a continuation of the aesthetic horizon that Atef works through, delving deeper into reductions and eccentricity. He is able to produce a painting out of the bare minimum; the first meeting of two images, creating a new language and an alternative visual discourse that frees the image from its narrative towards allusions and conveyance.

    Automne: Portraits of social personalities from the artist’s social realm. A decision that takes the art of portraying back in a different formats. Pale faces, faded, and mostly grey. The autumn of one’s life, a state of waiting similar to being lost. The faces are shrouded by mystery, making it difficult to read what lies behind them.

    Automne: A light surrealistic breath that combines reality and fantasy, bringing them together in a power that reveals their relation and connectedness. They walk together, side by side; the face and the sky, the wrinkles and the clouds, the eye and the horizon, a collection of embedded dualities reside in the structure of the work, transforming it into an instance of entwinement between the form and the background.

    Automne: A chapter of magical cinematic cinema, suspending actual movement to allow room to imagine movement and mindset. Installing images next to and above each other creates a sensory montage that the artists dreamt of to present to the viewer in a desire for collective production of dream, image, and art. The image is much more than just a scene frame, it is an alternative philosophy of seeing, watching, feeling, and living through eyes that see what cannot be seen.

    Automne: Through Atef’s works, the cold weather seeps into your bones, and the clouds evoke in you a familiar sense of alienation that you know through the country’s current conditions. This is how Atef wished the autumn to be, an autumn of anger and human tragedy, offering a critical standpoint of an Arabic Spring that yielded no true spring, and where flowers never bloomed.



    2007 MA- Fine Art School of Nabeul, Tunisia

    2004 MA- major in sculpture – Institute of Fine Art School of Tunis, Tunisia

    SHOWS (Selection)

    2016 Yesterday is tomorrow's memory: a group show of work from North Africa, Elmarsa Gallery, Dubai

    2016 Effervescence, Institut des cultures d’Islam, Ville de Paris

    2016 Dispositifs sensibles, in collaboration with the Collectif Zamaken at the Salon DDessin16, Atelier Richelieu, Paris

    2015 Under Construction, a spatial installation accompanied by a live music performance by Sami Belatra et Khalil Lajmi, Galerie Elmarsa Tunis

    2015 2nd prize at the Contemporary Drawing Fair D.Dessin, Paris

    2014 Singapore biennale curated by Catherine David, at the Singapore Art Fair

    2014 Survivances, collective exhibition with Fakhri Zeghal and Nidhal Chamekh, Elmarsa, Tunis

    2013 Politiques 2, group show with artist collective Politics including guest artists Shadi Al Zaqzouq, Matthieu Boucherit and Iba Wane, Centre national des arts vivants of Tunis

    2013 Politiques, collective exhibition at Art Factum Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon

    2013 Group show with artist collective Politics including guest artists Shadi Al Zaqzouq, Matthieu Boucherit and Iba Wane, Galerie Talmart, Paris

    2013 No man’s land, solo show at Elmarsa, Tunisia

    2012 10th Printemps des arts Fair de Tunis, Palais Abdellyah, represented by Galerie El Marsa

    2012 Group show with artist collective Politics, Centre national des arts vivants of Tunis

    2012 A dire d'elles, the National Library of Tunis

    2012 Sexy Art 3, Galerie Aire Libre El Teatro, Tunis

    2012 Salon Maisons et Objets (design fair), represented by designer Philippe Xerri Rock The Kasbah, Paris

    2012 Group show Lokhrine, Galerie Aire Libre El Teatro, Tunis

    2010 Participated as a colorist in the animation film El Mrayet directed by Nadia Rais and produced by Propaganda Prod

    2006/2009 Founder and active member of the professional group artists El Maamel: conception and production of wall paintings and sculptures commissioned for private and public spaces


    Ministry of Culture in Tunisia

    Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah

    Kamel Lazaar Collection, Tunis

    And in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jeddah, London, Paris, Tunis, etc.


    -Gulf News Arts - Shining a spotlight on North African art by Jyoti Kalsi, special to Weekend Review, August 4, 2016:

    - Connaissance des arts - Tunisie aujourd’hui à l’Institut des cultures d’Islam de Paris by Myriam Boutoulle 14.07.2016: 

    - RFI-Radio France Internationale - «Effervescence» tunisienne à l’Institut des cultures d’islam by RFI 04-07-2016: 

    - Atef Maatallah lauréat du prix L’ART EST VIVANT – Award Prize L’ART EST VIVANT (April 2016):

    - Marion Zilio - Dispositifs sensibles, in collaboration with the Collectif Zamaken at the Salon DDessin16, Atelier Richelieu, Paris:

    - Hi-Fructose - The New Contemporary Art Magazine: Atef Maatallah’s Personality-Driven Portraits of Tunisian Society by Roxanne Goldberg, August 28, 2015:

    - Pixelgray - Atef Maatallah by sarwiya, August 30, 2015: 

    - Nataal - Tunisian art flourishes with JAOU and a young generation of artists as its critical voice by Helen Jennings:

    - chaos without consequences:

    - Whitewall - JAOU Tunis: Talks, Tours, and Insights by Hili Perlson on June 3, 2014: 

    - TAG - Atef Maâtallah. Par-delà les figures et les maux. by Meysem Marrouki, 11-02-2013 from La Presse, Tunisie :