Lalla Essaydi : crossing boundaries, bridging cultures (Coffret)

Lalla Essaydi : crossing boundaries, bridging cultures (Coffret)

Quatrième de couverture

Crossing boundaries and expanding ideas of physical and social space are not new challenges for Essaydi, as her lived experience spans divergent, locations, cultures, and ideologies.
Moroccan born and raised, Essaydi became an artist after relocating from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, then France, and ultimately to the United States. This itinerant personal history has afforded her the distance and means to explore the varied dimensions of Muslim women's experiences based on those of her own, and also to challenge the boundaries that shaped her upbringing. She believes her work, with its very intimate portrayal of Moroccan women and the private spaces they inhabit, would not have been possible without distance from her homeland.
Well-educated, well-traveled, and raised in a closely knit family of means, Essaydi (b.1956) enjoyed a privileged and enriching childhood in Marrakesh, Morocco, in a traditional Muslim household that included relatively private spaces reserved for women. Within these spaces, women led animated lives among extended family and friends. She has spent much of her life in the Muslim world where women were expected to maintain traditional gender roles as daughters, sisters, and ultimately as wives and mothers. She followed this path for many years, first as a daughter in Morocco, and later as wife and mother in Saudi Arabia, where she raised her family.
In 1990 Essaydi broke from the conventions of her upbringing as she embarked upon an independent path in her personal and professional lives. She began a career as an artist when, as an adult, she moved to France to attend the École des Beaux-Arts (1992-1994) where she studied painting. She then attended art schools in the United States, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tufts University (1999) and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University (2003). During the course of these continuing art studies, in the 1990s she began working with photography, her current medium of choice. Now based in New York and her hometown, Marrakech, she also returns regularly to Saudi Arabia where she lived for many years.
Her art, which often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female form, addresses the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of personal experience. In much of her work, she returns to her Moroccan girlhood, looking back on it as an adult woman caught somewhere between past and present, and as an artist, exploring the language in which to «speak» from this uncertain space. Her work often appropriate Orientalist imagery from the Western painting tradition, thereby inviting viewers to reconsider the Orientalist mythology. She has worked in numerous media, including painting, video, film, installation, and analog photography.

Depuis des siècles, les questions de genre, de mentalité, d'identité et d'espace s'entrechoquent pour donner une vision faussée des femmes arabes. La peinture orientaliste a produit des scènes de femmes dans des harems, cachées et isolées derrière des voiles et des murs.
L'artiste d'origine marocaine Lalla Essaydi récupère et déconstruit ces images qui continuent d'infl uer sur l'idée que se font les Occidentaux des femmes arabes.

Extrait de Lalla Essaydi : crossing boundaries, bridging cultures (Coffret)

In a sense, my work is haunted by space, actual and metaphorical, remembered and constructed. My photographs grew out of the need I felt to document actual spaces, especially the space of my childhood. At a certain point, I realized that in order to go forward as an artist, it was necessary to return physically to my childhood home in Morocco and to document this world that I had left in a physical sense, but, of course, never fully in any deeper, more psychological sense. In order to understand the woman I had become, I needed to reencounter the child I once was. I needed to return to the culture of my childhood if I wanted to understand my unfolding relation to the "converging territories" of my present life. This culture, and the space of my childhood within it, was defined for me by specific domestic spaces, ones that still exist, but are in the process of slowly deteriorating. So I embarked on a project to photograph these physical spaces before they were lost, and in doing so to see the role they played in shaping the metaphorical space of my childhood.

For the past several years, I have been working on a body of photographs that are set in Morocco, in a large, unoccupied house, belonging to my family. Until fairly recently, my work was preoccupied with this physical space. Thus the house is both a literal and a psychological space, a space marked by memory. More recently, however, after having- revisited this house many times in making these photographs, and thinking about my own complex relation as an artist to this space of childhood, I have become aware of another, less tangible, more ambiguous space, that of the imagination, of self-creation.

Creating these photographs is performative : I use family acquaintances as models. Applying henna is a very painstaking process, and cannot be interrupted, so the models are unable to rest, sometimes for as long as nine hours. The women in the photographs participate because they feel they are contributing to the greater emancipation of Arab women, and at the same time conveying to a Western audience a very rich tradition often misunderstood in the West. They see themselves as part of a small Feminist movement.

Henna is a crucial element in the life of a Moroccan woman, and is associated with the major celebrations in her life. It is first applied when a girl attains puberty to mark her passage into womanhood. When she is a bride it is thought to enhance her charms for her husband. Finally, it is used to celebrate fertility when she has her first child.

It is obvious that while my photographs are expressions of my own personal history, they can also be taken as reflections on the life of Arab women in general. There are continuities, of course, within Arab culture, but I am uncomfortable thinking of myself as a representative of ail Arab women. Art can only come from the heart of an individual artist, and I am much too aware of the range of traditions and laws among the different Arab nations to presume to speak for everyone. My work documents my own experience growing up as an Arab woman within Islamic culture seen now from a very different perspective. It is the story of my quest to find my own voice, the unique voice of an artist, not an attempt to present myself as a victim, which would deprive me of the very complexity I wish to express.

These photographs have led me to a greater understanding of the importance of architectural space in Islamic culture. Traditionally, the presence of men has defined public spaces : the streets, the meeting places, the places of work. Women, on the other hand, have been confined to private spaces, the architecture of the home. Physical thresholds define cultural ones, hidden hierarchies dictate patterns of habitation. Thus, crossing a permissible, cultural threshold info prohibited "space" in the metaphorical sense, can result in literal confinement in an actual space. Many Arab women today may feel the space of confinement to be a more psychological one, but its origins are, I think, embedded in architecture itself. In my photographs, I am constraining the women within space and also confining them to their "proper" place, a place bounded by walls and controlled by men. The henna painted on their bodies corresponds to the elaborate pattern of the tiles. The women, then, become literal odalisques (odalisque, from the Turkish, means to belong to a place).