Les Femmes du Maroc
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Fresh photography. Taking the old, the classic. Reinventing the established. Masters become mentors. Absorbing and recreating. A Western form made modern and reinterpreted for all to imagine. That’s what I absolutely have fallen for in this series of photographs by Lalla Essaydi:

"In photographing women inscribed with henna, I emphasize their decorative role, but subvert the silence of confinement. There is a very different space I inhabit in the West — a space of independence and mobility."

That henna is composed of Arabic script. Use of calligraphy in this way keeps with traditional inscriptions one might see in the simplest of mosques or in the Alhambra; it also gives deeper meaning to these poses modeled after 19th-century European and American paintings. Even the title of the series, Les Femmes du Maroc, is a play on Delacroix’s Les Femmes d’Algiers.

I’m not versed well enough in art history to immediately understand the many subtexts going on in these photographs. But, I don’t have to; and you don’t have to either to enjoy the magnificence of these women and the tender beauty of those who inhabit the many worlds we all transect in one way or another as creative, working, sentient beings. Essaydi creates a dialogue about ourselves and eventually with the stranger seated at the table next to you:

"In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses — as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as liberal, as Muslim. I invite viewers to resist stereotypes."

"Grand Odalisque" (2008)

(image, top: “Moorish Woman” + bottom: “Grand Odalisque” - courtesy of the Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston)

[h/t Mona Eltahawy]

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