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Ramcharitar Lalla Essaydi

Lalla A. Essaydi (born 1956) is a Moroccan-born photographer known for her staged photographs of Arab women in contemporary art. She currently works in Boston, Massachusetts, and Morocco. Her current residence is in New York. Essaydi's work is represented by Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston and Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Essaydi was born in Marrakesh, Morocco in 1956. She left to attend high school in Paris at 16. She married after returning to Morocco and moved to Saudi Arabia where she had two children and divorced. Essaydi returned to Paris in the early 1990s to attend the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.[2] She moved to Boston in 1996 and earned her BFA from Tufts University in 1999 and her MFA in painting and photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2003.[3]

Career[edit]

Essaydi's photographic series include Converging Territories (2003–2004), Les Femmes du Maroc (2005–2006), Harem (2009), Harem Revisited (2012–2013), Bullets, and Bullets Revisited (2012–2013). Her work has been exhibited around the world, including at the National Museum of African Art,[4] and is represented in a number of collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum Fünf Kontinente Munich/ Germany; the San Diego Museum of Art; the Cornell Fine Arts Museum,[5] Winter Park, Florida; the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts.[6] She was named as #18 in Charchub's "Top 20 Contemporary Middle Eastern Artists in 2012-2014".[7] In 2015, the San Diego Museum of Art mounted the exhibition, Lalla Essaydi: Photographs.[8]

Work[edit]

Influenced by her experiences growing up in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, Essaydi explores the ways that gender and power are inscribed on Muslim women's bodies and the spaces they inhabit. She has stated that her work is autobiographical[9] and that she was inspired by the differences she perceived in women's lives in the United States versus in Morocco, in terms of freedom and identity.[10] She explores a wide range of perspectives, including issues of diaspora, identity, and expected location through her studio practice in Boston.[11] She also looks at the ways of viewing reality while questioning limits of other cultures and challenging Orientalist art, engaging tradition, history, art and technology. She also presents the resistance of stereotypes maintained by Western and Eastern societies.[12] The inspiration for many of her works came from her childhood, in the physical space where she, as a young woman, was sent when she disobeyed. She stepped outside the permissible behavioral space, as defined by Moroccan culture.[13]

Several pieces of her work (including Converging Territories) combine henna, which is traditionally used to decorate the hands and feet of brides, with Arabic calligraphy, a predominantly male practice.[14] While she uses henna to apply calligraphy to her female subjects' bodies, the words are indecipherable in an attempt to question authority and meaning.[14] Beyond creating powerful pieces revolving around the art of henna, Essaydi includes interpretations of traditional Moroccan elements, including draped folds of cloths adorning women's bodies, mosaic, tiles, and Islamic architecture. [15] "Although it is calligraphy that is usually associated with 'meaning' (as opposed to 'mere' decoration), in the visual medium of my photographs, the 'veil' of henna, in fact, enhances the expressivity of the images. The women depicted in her exhibition of photographs, Les Femmes du Maroc, are deemed decorative and confined into the art of henna.[16] She believes that applying henna is really a painting process[17]. It is extremely symbolic, especially for Moroccan women. Henna is an association with celebrations of a girl reaching puberty and transitioning into a woman. By using henna in her work, she creates a silent atmosphere of the women "speaking" to each other through femininity. It is predominantly a process where women who are discouraged to work outside the home and find a profitable work in applying the tattoo-like material.[18] But, by the same token, the male art of calligraphy has been brought into a world of female experience from which it has traditionally been excluded."[10]

Awards[edit]

2012 Medal Award, The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA)[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^Essaydi, Lalla. "Biography". Lalla Essaydi. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  2. ^Brown, DeNeen (May 6, 2012). "Challenging the fantasies of the harem". Washington Post. 
  3. ^"Lalla Essaydi". Feminist Art Base. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  4. ^Cheers, Imani M. (May 9, 2012). "Q&A: Lalla Essaydi Challenges Muslim, Gender Stereotypes at Museum of African Art". PBS NewsHour. 
  5. ^"The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College". Retrieved March 9, 2015. 
  6. ^Goodman, edited by Abigail Ross (2013). Art for Rollins: the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. Winter Park, Fla.: Cornell Fine Arts Museum. ISBN 978-0-9792280-2-5. 
  7. ^Ehsani, Ehsan; Rokhsari, Hossein. "Middle Eastern Titans: Top 20 Contemporary Middle Eastern Artists in 2012-2014". Charchub. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  8. ^Chute, James (1 July 2015). "Making eye contact". The San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  9. ^"Lalla Essaydi on Boston's art scene". Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  10. ^ abcNassar, Nelida (31 May 2012). "Lalla Essaydi SMFA 2012 Award Recipient Dispels Orientalists Western Prejudices". Berkshire Fine Arts. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  11. ^Edited by Nadine Monem (2009). Contemporary Art in Middle East. London: Black Dog Publishing. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-906155-56-8. 
  12. ^Rocca, Anna (2014). "In Search of Beauty in Space: Interview with Lalla Essaydi"(PDF). Retrieved 2018-03-06. 
  13. ^Waterhouse, Ray (2009). "Lalla Essaydi: An Interview". Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. 24 (1): 144–149. ISSN 2152-7792. 
  14. ^ abErrazzouki, Samia (16 May 2012). "Artistic Depictions of Arab Women: An Interview with Artist Lalla Essaydi". Jadaliyya. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  15. ^Rocca, Anna (2014). "In Search of Beauty in Space: Interview with Lalla Essaydi"(PDF). Retrieved 2018-03-06. 
  16. ^Essaydi, Lalla (2005). Converging Territories. New York: PowerHouse Books. pp. 26–29. ISBN 9781576872567. 
  17. ^Waterhouse, Ray (2009). "Lalla Essaydi: An Interview". Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. 24 (1): 144–149. ISSN 2152-7792. 
  18. ^Essaydi, Lalla (2005). Converging Territories. New York: PowerHouse Books. pp. 26–29. ISBN 9781576872567. 

Lalla Essaydi’s (b. 1956, Marrakesh, Morocco) art champions women. Central to the artist’s vision is a unique synthesis of personal and historical catalysts. As a Muslim woman who grew up in Morocco, raised her family in Saudi Arabia, and relocated to France and finally the United States, the artist has profound firsthand perspectives into cross-cultural identity politics. Essaydi also weaves together a rich roster of culturally embedded materials and practices—including the odalisque form, Arabic calligraphy, henna, textiles, and bullets—to illuminate the narratives that have been associated with Muslim women throughout time and across cultures. By placing Orientalist fantasies of Arab women and Western stereotypes in dialogue with lived realities, Essaydi presents identity as the culmination of these legacies, yet something that also expands beyond culture, iconography, and stereotypes.

The performative act of inscribing women’s bodies and spaces with calligraphy is a vital part of Essaydi’s approach, emphasizing the ongoing, active, and collaborative process of becoming and creating. Since her first major series Converging Territories (2002-4), Essaydi has used henna to envelope the women in her photographs in Arabic calligraphy, a skill she could not learn in school due to her gender. Henna is a form of decoration that marks some of the happiest and most significant moments of a Muslim woman’s life, and Essaydi elevates this tradition—conventionally regarded as a “woman’s craft”—into a radical act of visual and linguistic artistry. The stream-of-consciousness, poetic script includes biographical details relating to the artist’s and models’ experiences as women. Essaydi’s series Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-7) continued to engage with these approaches while expanding to also question the historical representation of Arab women in the Western art canon, referencing the Orientalist imagery of 19th century artists such as Ingres, Delacroix, and Gérôme. Her reinterpretation is a strong statement of the power of artistic representation to influence identity. In her Harem series (2009), set in a lavish yet isolating harem in Morocco, Essaydi addresses the complex social and physical confines of Muslim womanhood. Her most recent series Bullets (2009-14) introduces a new material for the artist—silver and gold bullet casings—which she has woven together to create glittering gowns of armor.

Essaydi’s work deliberately incorporates and invites perspectives from many angles. “In my art,” Essaydi explains, “I wish to present myself through multiple lenses—as artist, as Moroccan, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes.”

Essaydi spent her most foundational years living in traditional Muslim society in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. She attended École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris before earning her BFA from Tufts University and MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Boston. Her work has been exhibited around the world, including at the San Diego Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Bahrain National Museum; and Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial, United Arab Emirates. Essaydi’s work is represented in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and the Louvre Museum, Paris, amongst many others. The most recent text of her work, Lalla Essaydi: Crossing Boundaries, Bridging Cultures, was published in 2015 by ACR Edition, in addition to a selection from her series Les Femmes du Maroc published by powerHouse Books in 2009. The artist currently lives in Boston and Marrakesh.

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