Biography

Lalla Essaydi’s career as an artist has encompassed painting, mixed media, and video, but recently she has devoted herself to photography, and to sumptuous explorations of the image of woman in Islamic society.

Essaydi was raised in Morocco and spent many years in Saudi Arabia, and although she was educated in Europe and the United States, this experience of traditional Islamic life was fundamental in shaping her. Her first major photographic series to explore this was Converging Territories (2002-4), which depicted Islamic women and children in an unoccupied house where Essaydi was once confined for long spells as a child, whenever she was disobedient. The series which followed this, Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-7), expanded this further, exploring the charged rhetoric of veiling and revealing which surrounds Islamic women.

Essaydi’s photography provides 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. The women in Les Femmes du Maroc are entirely enveloped in Islamic calligraphy – writing, applied in henna, which adorns their skin, their robes, and the interiors that surround them. The text seems to entrap the women, and yet it is a form of decoration which marks some of the happiest and most significant moments of an Islamic woman’s life. 

More recently Essaydi has produced a series of pictures in a former harem in Morocco, often swathing her subjects in robes which closely echo the decorative tiles that wall the complex. “In my art,” Essaydi says, “I wish to present myself through multiple lenses -- as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes.”

Lalla Essaydi lives in New York. Selections from her series Les Femmes du Maroc were published by powerHouse Books in 2009. Recent exhibitions of her work have been staged at Williams College Museum, Williamstown, Mass.; and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Her work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and many others.