Lalla Essaydi is a New York-based, Moroccan-born photographer, painter, and installation artist. Over the past decade, she has risen to international prominence with her timely and beautiful work that deals with the condition of women in Islamic society, cross-cultural identity, Orientalism, and the history of art.
Most of the photographs in Les Femmes du Maroc are based on specific nineteenth-century European and American Orientalist paintings; Essaydi, however, has radically transformed the antecedents. While she retains the compositions, gestures, and general costume of the original paintings, she strips them of their opulent colors, removes male figures, erases cues to social status, clothes all nudity, and incorporates her ubiquitous calligraphy. Les Femmes du Maroc unmasks the fetishistic, formulaic, and sometimes pornographic aspects of Orientalist panting and the Western view of Arab women they encapsulate. Traversing the geographic, political, and religious divides between East and West, history and the present, Essaydi’s photographs foster timely discourse about Orientalism and cross-cultural understanding today.