Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc
During the 19th Century, French painters such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Léon Gérôme indulged their audiences with the trend for images of the middle-eastern harem and the eroticisized Arab female body. Utilizing the perspective of an Arab woman living in a Western world, the artist attempts to reexamine Arab female identity.
Set within an unoccupied house, owned by the artist’s family, a place to which Essaydi was sent as a form of punishment when she disobeyed, Les Femmes du Maroc represents an exploration of the imaginary boundaries and “permissible space” codified by traditional Muslim society. Essaydi writes, “the presence of men defines public space, the streets, the meeting places. Women are confined to private spaces, the architecture of the homes.”
“I am writing. I am writing on me, I am writing on her. The story began to be written the moment the present began.” Translated from the original Arabic, Essaydi’s personal writing subverts traditional Muslim gender stereotypes through the presence of the written word. The sacred Islamic art form of calligraphy, traditionally reserved exclusively for men, is employed by Essaydi as a small act of defiance against a culture in which women are relegated to the private sphere. Crossing a prohibited cultural threshold through the act of writing, Les Femmes du Maroc enables the artist and her subjects to engage in a simple act of self-expression.