On view October 10–November 3, 2016
The harem has long been a focus of artistic depiction, particularly in 19th-century paintings of voluptuous European and Middle Eastern women in stages of undress against backdrops of lush arabesque designs. In this series, artist Lalla Essaydi strives to disrupt the stereotypes and revert to the authentic idea of the harem as a space designated as strictly for women and without overt sexual connotations. Essaydi’s images are also visually opulent, but they create spaces where women reclaim their autonomy, reject objectification and return the viewer’s gaze.
Essaydi was raised in Morocco and now lives in New York and Morocco. Her art, which often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female body, addresses the complex reality of Arab female identity from the perspective of personal experience. She has worked in media including painting, video, film, installation and analog photography.
“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.”
Image: Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, b. 1956), Harem #2, chromogenic print mounted to aluminum with UV laminate, 30 x 40 inches, 2009. © Lalla Essaydi. Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zurich.