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Lalla Essaydi Self Employed

Galerie Edwynn Houk zur Stockeregg is delighted to present an exhibition of photographs by Moroccan-born artist, Lalla Essaydi. The show will include work from two recent series: Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008) and Les Femmes du Maroc Revisited (2010). This will be Essaydi’s first solo exhibition in Zürich.

Lalla Essaydi incorporates layers of Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna, in tandem with poses directly inspired by 19th Century Orientalist painting. By appropriating this imagery, the works reflect the changing and “complex female identities” found in Morocco and throughout the Muslim world.

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 painting images of the middle-eastern harem and the eroticisized Arab female body. Utilizing her perspective as an Arab woman living in a Western world, Lalla Essaydi, 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.

Lalla Essaydi was born in 1956, outside of Marrakech. Her work is represented in a number of collections including the Williams College Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Fries Museum, The Netherlands; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Kodak Museum of Art, Rochester, New York; The Columbus Museum Of Art, Ohio; The Kresge Art Museum, Michigan; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; The Colorado Museum of Art, Colorado; The Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis; the Jordan National Museum; the North Carolina Museum of Art; the Neuberger Museum; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and The Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

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In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses—as artist, as Moroccan, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes. — Lalla Essaydi

February 3—April 11
Lalla Essaydi

Photographer Lalla Essaydi‘s  explorations of the image of woman in Islamic society address the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of personal experience.

Essaydi’s art champions women. Central to the artist’s vision is a unique synthesis of personal and historical catalysts. As a Muslim woman who grew up in Morocco, raised her family in Saudi Arabia, and relocated to France and finally the United States, the artist has profound firsthand perspectives into cross-cultural identity politics. Essaydi also weaves together a rich roster of culturally embedded materials and practices—including the odalisque form, Arabic calligraphy, henna, textiles, and bullets—to illuminate the narratives that have been associated with Muslim women throughout time and across cultures. By placing Orientalist fantasies of Arab women and Western stereotypes in dialogue with lived realities, Essaydi presents identity as the culmination of these legacies, yet something that also expands beyond culture, iconography, and stereotypes.

An illustrated catalogue with essay by Valerie Behiery is available.  Behiery is a Canadian independent scholar and arts writer whose research focuses on historical and contemporary visual culture from or relating to the Middle East, with a special emphasis on gender, cross-culturality, and the politics of representation,

Public lecture by the artist, ” Gender, Power, and Tradition,” February 28, Oechsle Hall, 4:10 p.m., followed by a reception for the artist at the Williams Center.

The photographs are “© Lalla Essaydi / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York?”

Lalla Essaydi’s lecture and residency are funded in part by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals’ Building Bridges: Arts, Culture and Identity, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; College programs and departments including Africana Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Sociology, History, the Deparment of Arts’ Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman  and the Lafayette Art Galleries. The Lafayette Art Galleries and Collections receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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