Lalla Essaydi is a Moroccan-born photographer, painter and installation artist. She lived many years in Saudi Arabia and is now based between Morocco and New York. Widely exhibited. She is known for her work that combines calligraphy and representations of the female body. She offers a feminist voice that challenges Islamic tradition and Orientalist mythology; specifically the confinement of women to private space and Orientalist misrepresentation.
In her recent exhibit “Les Femmes du Maroc” and an earlier exhibit “Converging Territories” she makes direct reference to Orientalist paintings. She dresses erotic impressions left by Orientalist and subverts historical forms of representation by eliminating traces of male dominance and social status. The composition of her photographs alludes to domestic private spaces but also to a non-place shaped by drapes and calligraphic writing.
The all-pervading calligraphy is a way for these women to subvert silence. Here henna, a ritual of women, is used for calligraphy, an Islamic art form that until recently was a practice restricted to men. The written text is partly autobiographical and speaks of cross-cultural experience and uncertainty. Her work intended to capture feminine spirituality and reveal mystery around the rituals of Muslim women today, ends up creating further intrigue.