Amelia Johnson Contemporary is proud to present Boundaries, Lalla Essaydi’s first solo
exhibition in Asia.
Essaydi’s international career as an artist has encompassed painting, mixed media,
photography and video. Boundaries features a carefully curated collection of
Essaydi’s works which pose a contemporary reflection on an iconography that
stretches at least as far back as the Orientalist imagery of nineteenth century artists
such as Ingres, Delacroix and Gérôme. Moroccan women are swathed in sumptuous
fabrics covered in Islamic calligraphy – writing, applied in henna, which adorns their
skin, robes and the interiors they occupy. The studied confusion of body and environment
address the complex issue of female identity from a unique, personal and
Essaydi was raised in Morocco, educated in Europe and the United States and spent
many years living in Saudi Arabia. She completed studies at the L’Ecole des Beaux
Arts in Paris before receiving her BFA (1999) and MFA (2003) from the School of the
Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. In her work she
returns to her Moroccan past by placing her subjects within architectural settings
linked both to her own personal history and the histories, traditions and belief systems
of Islam. The blending of body and object in each series operates on a decorative
level, but more acutely as a subversive means of questioning, validating and recording
feminine identities and how they are perceived.
The artist acknowledges that both herself and her work are shaped and distorted as
much by her Eastern heritage as her Western experiences. Using only analog film and
cameras, Essaydi photographs are painstakingly choreographed in staged scenes
appropriated from well-known, 19th-century European and American Orientalist
paintings. In this way she acknowledges Western influences, but simultaneously
encourages a re-consideration of iconography associated with such scenes.
In oscillating between Western and Eastern ideology, as well as between the past
and present, Essaydi articulates how identity can be understood not by characteristics
peculiar to a linear conception of self, but by an amalgam of varying influences.
Her work serves as a visual metaphor for this continual negotiation of shifting and