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Lalla Essaydi

Women of Morocco: The Sultana


Lalla Essaydi
Born in Marrakesh in 1956


Women of Morocco: The Sultana




Chromogenic print, 1/15


85 x 101.6 cm


Purchase, the Museum Campaign 1988-1993 Fund, inv. 2014.167


Graphic Arts

With her series “Women of Morocco” Lalla Essaydi revisits the Orientalist tradition of the odalisque. Here, she is citing the Odalisque or La Sultana (mid-1870s, Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum) by the academic painter Ferdinand Roybet, seeking to bypass the Western invention of the East as a world of fantasy in order to underscore the beauty of the Arab culture. The bodies of her women models are covered in texts hand-painted in henna, the purpose of which is to deflect the attention of voyeuristic spectators. These phrases, inspired by Kufic calligraphy but deliberately indecipherable, are not meant to give a precise meaning to the image. It does not tell only one story but is universal: the woman is herself a page, a chapter in which the artist, the model and the spectator explore the creation of the role played by narrative. Essaydi evokes Orientalism in order to reclaim Western representations. She asserts her right to self-representation, while the echoes of rethought European art and the pure beauty of the image (the dove – a symbol of freedom) fill the gulf between the East and the West.

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