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Harem by Lalla Essaydi


Born in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi has been examining the role of the Muslim woman by incorporating layers of Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna, in tandem with poses directly inspired by 19th Century Orientalist painting. By appropriating this imagery, the works reflect the “complex female identities” found in Morocco and throughout the Muslim world.

While she continues to explore many of the themes and visual devices characteristic of her earlier work, Lalla Essaydi’s newest body of work, Harem, is a striking departure from her two previous series: Converging Territories (2003-2004) and Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008). Perhaps the most marked difference in the Harem series is the highly-colored, elaborate, architectural setting of the Moroccan palace Dar al Basha. The artist created fabric for the models that mimics the patterns within the palace, which is decorated in painstaking detail with mosaic, stucco, stained glass and carved wood. Having navigated the labyrinthine corridors to reach the actual harem quarters, the models are at once camouflaged with the decoration that surrounds them and emerging from the traditional spaces they once occupied. Essaydi’s photographs provide the opportunity for the artist and her subjects to engage in the emerging “culture of Islamic feminism.”

“The physical harem is the dangerous frontier where sacred law and pleasure collide. This is not the harem of the Western Orientalist imagination, an anxiety-free place of euphoria and the absence of constraints, where the word “harem” has lost its dangerous edge. My harem is based on the historical reality; rather then the artistic images of the West – an idyllic, lustful dream of sexually available women, uninhibited by the moral constraints of 19th Century Europe.”

Lalla Essaydi, 2010
Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue New York NY 10151

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