NEW BRUNSWICK.- Born in Morocco into a conservative Muslim family and educated in Europe and the United States, Lalla Essaydi is poised at the intersection of two cultures. She is one of several contemporary Islamic women artists whose subjects are informed by feminist perspectives and personal experience. Her work has garnered increasing acclaim in Europe and America; in 2011 she will be the subject of a mid-career survey at the North Carolina Museum of Art. On exhibition through 6 June, 2010.
Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc comprises 17 large scale photographs selected from the artist’s most recent series. The title of the series, Les Femmes du Maroc,is adapted from Eugene Delacroix’s iconic painting, Les Femmes d’Algiers of 1834. The painting by Delacroix, while based on his actual travels in North Africa, is a fictive vision of languorous women in an opulent harem. Paintings like these, which coincided with the nineteenth-century European occupation of much of the Arab world, fostered a view of the Middle East as a sensual paradise of sexually available women, rich colors and exotic tastes. Essaydi takes these Orientalist paintings of the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a point of departure for her own de-colonializing enterprise.
She drains the paintings of color, removes all male figures, drapes the women and all surfaces in white fabric, and sets everything within a shallow stage-like space. All visible surface -- backdrops, floor, drapery, skin -- are inscribed with Arabic calligraphy. These texts are subversive on several levels. In Islamic cultures calligraphy is a male art form, used primarily to transcribe the Q’uran and other sacred literature, however, in Essaydi’s work, the texts -- musings on personal freedom, cultural and individual identity, memory and communication taken from her personal journals -- are applied with henna, a tradition associated with women. Her transformations of the original paintings reverberate with the historical past while revealing the colonial and gendered perspectives of historic and contemporary Orientalism.
Lalla Essaydis photographic portraits capture a truly feminine spirituality, solitude and purity. Her subjects are always dressed in ghost like white (White being the colour worn by Moroccan women whilst in mourning.) she photographs these women in relaxed poses reminiscent of a bye gone era, similar to the 18th century orientalist artists who were fascinated with exposing the veiled women of the Harem. Lalla Essaydis work continues to expose the mystery to the western mind that surrounds the rituals of Muslim women in the present day.
This exhibition has been organized by the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Visit the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at : www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.