Photography by Lalla Essaydi
Moroccan-born, New York-based photographer Lalla Essaydi lures the viewer into her third solo show at Howard Yezerski Gallery with a pair of stunning large scale pictures hung in the front window. Each depicts an Arab woman covered in calligraphy and posed to imitate a famous nineteenth-century Orientalist painting. Fumee d'Ambre Gris , 2008, which features a young woman lifting her white veil to draw in the titular aphrodisiac, is based on Sargent's 1880 painting of the same name. The Grande Odalisque, 2008, in parodying Ingres's famous painting of a nude girl languishing in a Turkish harem, also critiques Western exploitation of Eastern women. In her contemporary version, Essaydi rejects the distorted, dreamy, and nude portrayal found in Ingres's "gentleman's" painting, instead creating a realistic, clothed figure: a strongwilled woman who challenges the viewer to respect her and her domestic setting. Born and raised in Morocco, where only men are allowed to practice calligraphy, Essaydi rebelliously inscribes her female subjects with Arabic script, taking photographs that, showing flesh, burkas, and backgrounds completely covered in henna, comment on female identity and on the restrictions suffered by many Arab women.