“My message would be: Arab women are not so much oppressed as the Western World thinks. We are women incredibly engaged in our lives, to have a better life,”artist Lalla Essaydi said Tuesday, as she toured her exhibit, “Lalla Essaydi: Revisions,” which opened Wednesday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Essaydi, who was born in a harem in Morocco and has gained international fame for her photography of women in Islamic cultures, told a crowd at a press preview that her work is autobiographical and is intended to confront Western stereotypes of women in those cultures.

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