Art & PhotographyThe Arts

In Lalla Essaydi’s Shocking Photography, Moroccan Odalisques, Feminism, and Bullets Make Sense

Born in Morocco but based in New York, Lalla Essaydi embodies the new generation of Moroccan artists. The owner of a unique style, Essaydi portays Moroccan odalisques based on the images spread through 19th century French paintings, yet defying the spectator through a clear-cut gaze into the camera.

Essaydi uses her art as a way to break stereotypes of what women can do or be, while inviting viewers to reconsider the Orientalism mythology. Her women are bold and intriguing, challenging the viewer through a puzzling combination of calligraphy and fabric. Their faces are covered by henna tattoos, and their bodies by fabric, designed by the photographer herself. In her “Bullet” series, they wear a sort of chain metal she fashioned out of flattened bullets.

“My work reaches beyond Islamic culture to invoke the Western fascination, as expressed in painting, with the odalisque, the veil, and, of course, the harem. Here is another way in which my work cannot be read simply as a critique of Arab culture. Images of the harem and the odalisque still penetrate the present and I use the Arab female body to disrupt that tradition. I want the viewer to become aware of Orientalism as a projection of the sexual fantasies of Western male artists––in other words as a voyeuristic tradition,” she says.

For more information: Visit Lalla Essaydi‘s website.

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Valentina Primo

Journalist, globetrotter, and determined idealist. Since Valentina left her home country of Argentina, she has searched for ways to build bridges between cultures and foster dialogue. Her previous work in international organizations in Italy and Germany fed her passion for the world of development, while her 8-year journalistic experience in Argentina and Egypt increased her curiosity for everything that challenges the stereotype. She holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Peace Studies with a specialization in Human Rights.

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