Lalla Essaydi °Les Femmes du Maroc°

The photographs of the Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi captured immediately my interest when I read about them on Lalla Lydia's lovely blog and I ordered a copy of her recent book Les Femmes Du Maroc (with an introducing essay by Fatema Mernissi) which I recommend to everyone looking for innovating ideas from the contemporary muslim world.
From the book descrition: "In these images, the text adorning the women's bodies is partly autobiographical. Essaydi speaks her own thoughts and experiences directly, as a woman caught between the past and present, between East and West, and also as an artist, exploring the language in which to "speak" from this uncertain space. Without specificity of place, the text itself becomes the world of the subjects--their thoughts, speech, clothing, shelter, and nomadic home. However, this text is incomplete. It involves the viewer as well as the writer in a continual process of reading and revising, of losing and finding in its multiple and discontinuous threads. Similarly, the women in the photographs require multiple visual readings. Both are as elusive as "woman" herself--not simply because she is veiled but because she is still in progress."

Essaydi presents images of sheer beauty in retro sepia tone, invoking the Orientalist paintings of the 19th century. The theme is always the same: pictures showing women, discreetly veiled in ample white cloth. The fabric is covered with delicate ornaments, repeated also on the surrounding white walls, the floor and even face and hands of the pictured persons, which turn out to consit of several layers of text, carefully handwritten in brownish henna shades. The handwriting is clearly female and contrasts with the more familiar arabic calligraphy with masculine features.

But the closer the look gets the more the pleasing atmosphere vanishes as the women look at the viewer often directly in the eyes with a hostile and even angry expression on their faces.

Suddenly the observer turns into an unwelcome intruder. Yet another clash is irritating: the the element of the inscription, usually connected to the public, men dominated sphere and opposed to the traditionally oral culture of women confined to the private realm of their homes, assumes a completely new significance. The mostly illegible textlines form a permanent whispering that emerges from the pictures, sometimes superimposed by broader sentences that give the impression of a clearly pronounced voice, suiting the impression of autobiographical texts.
Moreover the writing is extended to the women's skin. In some images the henna paste is even discernable, in others it can be assumed, merging different forms of expression like traditional cosmetic techniqes and writing.

Perspective is completely missing in a dreamlike space reserved only to women, yet the resonance of the multiple voices is very deep. The depicted oriental women transform themselves from "odalisques", observated and desired objects into resolute persons developing a voice of their own.

Read an interesting article on Lalla Essaydi here.
Recently exhibited here. Picture credits here.


  1. This is very unique... Have never seen anything like this..

  2. My GOD this is brilliant! Have linked to your blog & shared this artist on my blog- do have a look at it here http://artnlight.blogspot.com/2010/01/lalla-essaydi.html

  3. very compelling images....intriguing idea.



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