Chromogenic print mounted to aluminum with a UV protective laminate
From an edition of 15
101.6 x 76.2 cm
I see my photographs as intersecting with the presence and absence of boundaries – boundaries of history, class, and architecture that mark spaces of possibility and limitation. All of my work, in some way, deals with the limitations of women in Islamic culture. This is my own history as well, so my work must conflate public and private spheres. This project addresses the polarization between East and West and the ways in which we in the East have, to limiting effect, allowed the Western gaze to imprint itself on our view of ourselves.
In this photograph taken from a whole series, the scene is set in the sort of room one finds in an Orientalist painting and is reproduced in faithful detail. But the scene is inflected with bullet casings that turn the domestic space into a psychological one, charged with contemporary realities. The woman, inhabiting this space and dressed accordingly, has become a weapon on herself.
The work portrays both the invasive role of violence and the threat of violence now heightened by the West’s fear of terrorism. It also responds to the current trend in the Arab world of seeking refuge in Islamic culture and belief. Islam provides a powerful message of peace and can be seen as a potent antidote to the violence of extremism. But like any religion, Islam can also be used as an escape, a withdrawal from today’s complexities, and an excuse for constraining women in an attempt to protect the private, domestic space.
In the photograph, the woman’s clothing contains real bullet casings. The clothes, in other words, form empty shells, depicting women as they can only exist in the minds of others, women without selves or identities of their own.
After they played a major role in the Arab Spring throughout the Middle East and North Africa, women today are experiencing tyranny in varying degrees all over the Arab world. Some regimes hide their agenda better than others, but let us make no
mistake or delude ourselves here, with our pseudo-hedonistic lifestyles, creature comforts and our misconceptions of true freedom. Until the power of love conquers all, the love of power will always prevail.
Lalla A. Essaydi grew up in Morocco and currently lives in the United States where she received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/TUFTS University in May 2003. Her practice, which often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female body, addresses the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of her own personal experience. In much of her work, she returns to her Moroccan girlhood, looking back on it as an adult woman caught somewhere between past and present, and as an artist, exploring the language in which to “speak” from this uncertain space. Her paintings often appropriate Orientalist imagery from the Western painting tradition, thereby inviting viewers to reconsider the Orientalist mythology. She has worked in numerous media, including painting, video, film, installation, and analog photography.
Essaydi’s recent exhibitions include solo presentations at the San Diego Museum of Art, CA (2015) and the National Museum of African Art, Washington DC (2012). She is represented in numerous public collections across the world including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Fries Museum, the Netherlands; the Louvre Museum, France and the Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar. The artist lives in New York and is represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery.