From our sister site Art Practical, today we bring you a review of Lalla Essaydi’s photographs now on view at at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco. Author Danica Willard Sachs notes that in Essaydi’s work, “the effect of the ceremonial fabrics and calligraphy is to flatten the women into almost abstract images that retreat into the background like furniture.” This article was originally published on February 24, 2014.
Lalla Essaydi’s highly staged tableaux employ the domestic spaces of her native Morocco to challenge the Orientalist imaging of Arab women. New Beauty at Jenkins Johnson Gallery brings together sixteen photographs from the artist’s two most recent series, Harem Revisited and Bullets Revisited, which expand her investigation of the harem as an architectural and social structure of confinement for women in Islamic culture.
Essaydi’s large-format chromogenic prints, all shot in the isolated space of the harem in palaces and homes around Marrakech, are visually alluring. The pictured women glint with gold clothing and jewelry made from bullet casings, or are swathed in intricately adorned fabrics in saturated hues. For the models’ poses and groupings, the artist references an art-historical lineage that includes 19th-century painters Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Eugène Delacroix, twisting familiar imagery into disconcerting scenes.