Lalla Essaydi

Through her art, Essaydi conducts an investigation on Orientalism, the problematic depiction of Arabic women by the Western world. Away from her childhood home in Morocco, Essaydi’s artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris first introduced her to the Orientalizing masterpieces by French artists Ingres, Leighton, Sargent, and Delacroix of the ‘exotic Arab woman.’ Her stunning portrais of women in Islamic cultures, questions the barriers imposed on Arab womena nd challenges sterotypical Western depcitions of women who live in harems.

Oppressive concealment of women by cultural and architectural barriers is upended by the use of the Arabic calligraphy that speaks ot Essaydi’s personal journey. It is painstakingly applied to her models and the photographed spaces they inhabit.

“Essaydi repeats the stereotypes of the Orientalists in an attempt to defuse them. She then twists them by contorting the women’s trappings, capturing their direct gaze and giving voice to the women with poetry and calligraphy, which are considered high art forms controlled by men”.1

Essaydi states on her website, “”In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses — as artist, as Moroccan, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim.  In short, I invite viewers to resist stereotypes.”

The Converging Territories series (2003-4) catapulted her into international recognition. Her more recent work Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-6), Harem (2009), Harem Revisited (2012-2013), Bullets, and Bullets Revisited (2012-2013) continue to along the same thematic thread.

Bullets Revisited #31
Harem Revisited #47
Converging Territories #22

Brown, DeNeen. “Artist Lalla Essaydi challenges stereotypes of women in Islamic cultures“. The Washington Post. 05 May 2012.

Essaydi’s website here.


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