Lalla Essaydi Bullets Revisited 3

Bullet Revisited #22 by Lalla Essaydi

“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 viewers to resist stereotypes.” Lalla Essaydi

Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi investigates the multi-faceted identity of muslim women in beautiful, intricate and delicate photographs. Subjects like the odalisque, the harem and the veils seem to have her preference to address this complex issue. The poses are also often  reminiscent of 19th century Orientalist paintings: she describes them as fantasies that everybody failed to perceive.

Her works are meticulous and superimpose many layers, materials and references. The construction of her pictures sometimes take a year!  For The bullet series, she made a huge cape with bullets cases (see picture below); Islamic calligraphy is applied by hand with henna, on the bodies; long veils are hand written. Lalla Essaydi says her work is autobiographical. But the references as well as the aesthetics make it universal.

Lalla Essaydi studied Orentalist painters who have portrayed Arab women as sexual objects for male’s fantasy. Although she is fascinated by these paintings, she questions the message they give as well as their veracity. In Les Femmes du Maroc she mimics the poses of these paintings (the reclining nude remind us of Ingres or Gérôme) and transforms the harem into a feminist statement. She reflects on the images of women from past and present, from the East and the West.


For Lalla Essaydi the stream-of-consciousness calligraph writing is a subversive act as the written word in Islamic culture has always been the domain of men. Here, she is literally giving these women a voice. At the same time she seems to entrap them in all these words that may still tell the happiest stories of these women.

Architecture, space, geometry  and clear composition lines are very strong in her work. Women are always present but seem to be absorbed by the walls and become the harem.

Lalla Essaydi’s career as an artist has encompassed many media such as painting, mixed media, and video; however for the past years, she has devoted herself to photography, and to sumptuous explorations of the image of women in Islamic society.  She was raised in Morocco and spent some years in Saudi Arabia. She studied in Europe and in the US.  Represented by the Edwyn Houk Gallery, she was present at the 2014 Art Basel edition. She currently lives and works in New York.Lalla Essaydi’s website

03.07.2014 – Post by Valérie Reinhold – Photography, courtesy of  Lalla Essaydi and Gallery Edwyn Houk

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #20, 2014; Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 in.; Courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi (b. 1956, Marrakesh, Morocco)

Born and raised in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi now lives and works in New York. She received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2003 and has since participated in several major exhibitions around the world.

Essaydi’s intricately staged photographs not only draw the viewer in with their scale and beauty, but go further to challenge 19th century Orientalist mythology, which portrayed Arab women as sexual objects for male fantasy. While she often imitates the poses of Orientalist painters, she controls the gaze. Essaydi portrays her subjects clothed and covered in henna calligraphy. This stylistic choice challenges the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form.

The Artist’s Voice:

“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 viewers to resist stereotypes.”—Lalla Essaydi, artist’s website

“There are so many layers to my work, and some of them are just for me. If the viewer does not discover it on their own, I’m not going to talk about it because I have always been told how to behave, what to say, how to see things, how to think, and I don’t want to impose that on the viewers by stating everything. I do what I do for myself, before anything else. ”—Lalla Essaydi, interview in Africa is a Country

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Revival Highlight:

Two of Essaydi’s photographs from her “Bullets Revisited” series are on view. A recent acquisition into NMWA’s permanent collection, the triptych Bullets Revisited #3 (2012) portrays a reclining woman, whose skin and garments are covered in henna calligraphy, against a background embellished in silver and gold bullet casings. By presenting this photograph in a triptych format, the fragmentation of the body denies a voyeuristic view of the figure. In Bullets Revisited #20 (2014), she cocooned her seated model with a cape encrusted with similar casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullets as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Posted inNMWA Exhibitions | TaggedBullets Revisited #3, Lalla Essaydi, Revival
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