Maryam Alakbarli, a young painter with a difference

On World Down Syndrome Day we meet a high achiever with the syndrome.
Mary Le Rumeur | Mar 20 2016 | comment  

Maryam Alakbarli, 2015.  Photo: AFP/La Croix


Born in 1991 in Azerbaidjan, Maryam has studied for the past four years in famous Paris art schools, and spends much of her spare time visiting the wonderful art exhibitions in the French capital.

But it is her own painting that shows a unique perception of the world aound her. Maryam paints bright, luminous, colourful canvases. Joy and light spring from her spontaneous but sure brush strokes.

In her early years Maryam had some problems with her speech, linked to the fact she has Down Syndrome. So her family sought other ways for her to express her feelings ‑ through music, dance, singing, and painting. She was only four years old when she held her first paint brush.

Today, her paintings have already been exposed in galleries in Moscow, Paris, and Deauville, receiving enthusiastic reviews. Some have compared her work to that of Matisse or Gauguin.  Maryam has an instinctive taste for colours, and a remarkable sensibility.

Her parents have installed their daughter in Paris, with her aunt Gohar and a French teacher Anna. Together they explore the artistic riches which give inspiration to Maryam for her own work.

"I love the Louvre," she says, and Orsay, Pompidou, Petit and Grand Palais, Rodin, the Orangerie ...

In her apartment near the Luxembourg Gardens, the salon serves as Maryam's workshop. Portraits, and still lifes, nudes and abstracts line the walls, waiting for their finishing touches.

Maryam passes from a simple bouquet of flowers in a vase, to a complex portrait, expressing the whole range of emotions from joy to sadness. She loves the brightest colours "the colours of my heart".

"It's wonderful to visit art galleries with Maryam," says Anna. "She sees things differently from us. She can marvel over a detail we don't even see. Or she sees something beyond …"

Maryam's parents and her older brother surround her with affection and encouragement, and always try to stimulate her spirit and her senses. Each of their daughter's 300 paintings is a treasure which they value and do not want to sell. But they organise her exhibitions, as far away as Berlin, Rome, Riga and Ankara. Maryam is always present and takes the chance to visit the art galleries in these historic cities.  

"Everyone at her arts school loves her, » says one teacher. « We love her smile, her joie de vivre. And her happiness is reflected in her paintings – the nudes, the flowers, the birds. Maryam has a personal vision of things around her. We don't want to change her."

The paintings of Maryam Alakbarli can be found on her website 

Mary Le Rumeur writes from Angers in France. She has a sister in New Zealand who has Down syndrome. 

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