Lalla Essaydi - Artist portrait, photo via artsalesmfaedu

Lalla Essaydi /   Lalla A. Essaydi

Morocco 1956


Lalla Essaydi
Lalla A. Essaydi
May 31, 2016
Bojan is an author for Widewalls. He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Belgrade, majoring in English studies. He is particularly interested in English linguistics and culture. Bojan is also interested in Photography and Digital Art.

Connecting contemporary Arab woman with the Orientalist imagery of nineteenth century Romanticism, Lalla Essaydi’s photography is created from the unique perspective of the personal experience. Her representations of the female body, combined with the Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna, focus the complex issue of Arab female identity. In most of her work, Essaydi returns to her childhood in Morocco, evoking the memories of life in a different world taking into account the fact of time that has been elapsed and her artistic point of view. Inviting the viewer to resist stereotypes, she strives to present her art through multiple lenses of an artist of Moroccan origin, Islam religion with Liberal convictions and traditional principles.

Lalla Essaydi - Harem Revisited #32, 2012-2013 bullets femmes maroc harem moroccan
Lalla Essaydi – Harem Revisited #32, 2012-2013

Early life and Education

Essaydi was born in Marrakesh in 1956. She left her birth town to attend a high school in Paris where she later studied at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. When she got married, she lived in a Saudi Arabia. After the divorce, Essaydi moved to Boston in 1996, continuing her education at Tufts University and School of the Museum of Fine Arts where she earned her master degree in paintings and photography. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and makes the part of the numerous collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Art Institute of Chicago and the San Diego Museum of Arts.

Lalla Essaydi studied in Europe and America

Lalla Essaydi - Converging Territories #30, 2004 bullets femmes maroc harem moroccan
Lalla Essaydi – Converging Territories #30, 2004

Essaydi’s Career and Related Work

The characteristic of her photographs is decoration made of Islamic calligraphy-writing applied in henna that adorns the interior space and skin and robes of her subjects. It seems like these women are shrouded into these inscriptions. Dealing with the themes of the greater emancipation of the Arab women, Essaydi is trying to present traditional issues that are often misunderstood in the West. Her first photographic series, the Converging Territories, 2002-2004, was shot in the house where female members of her family were locked up if they broke the rules of Islam. The second series, Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World, 2005, question the Islamic tradition which condemned women to live indoors. As the artist herself says, they are nothing but the decoration, which she used to literary decorate their bodies and clothes.

She is among artists who deal with the themes of greater emancipation of the Arab women

Lalla Essaydi - Bullet Revisited #31Diptych, 2012-2013
Lalla Essaydi – Bullet Revisited #31Diptych, 2012-2013

Trying to Edit the Image of Arab Woman

Lalla Essaydi deals with the restrictions imposed on the women in the Muslim world. The inscriptions over their bodies and surroundings are actually their voice in moments of silence in isolation. Emphasizing her rebellion, she points out the fact that within the Islam calligraphy cannot be practiced by women. In her artistic career Essaydi practiced painting, mixed media and video, but since 2002, she devoted herself to photography, as the most convenient medium for the explorations of women in Islamic society. Moving beyond a critique of Western art history about visual traditions of Islam, she creates multi-layered and complex work that convey her own experience as an Arab woman.

Essaydi’s work is represented by Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston and Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City.

Lalla A. Essaydi currently works in Boston, Massachusetts and lives in New York City.

Featured image: Lalla Essaydi – Artist portrait, photo via
All images copyright the artists

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Lalla Essaydi: Arab Female Identity Fitchburg State University Museum, FitchburgSolo
2016Lalla Essaydi: New Work San Diego Musuem of Art, San Diego, CaliforniaSolo
2016One Belt One Road, Visual Arts Exhibtion 2016 Sotheby’s Honk Kong Gallery, Honk KongGroup
2015Lalla Essaydi: Photographs The San Diego Museum of Art, San DiegoSolo
2015Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism Benjamin-Constant Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsSolo
2015She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaSolo
2015Lalla Essaydi: Photographs 2005-13 The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CaliforniaSolo
2015Re-Orientations IDEA at Colorado College Colorado Springs, ColoradoSolo
2015Lalla Essaydi: New Work Ohio University MuseumSolo
2015She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World Iris & B. Gerald Canto Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University, Sanford, CaliforniaSolo
2015 Re-Orientations Colorado CollegeGroup
2015Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism Benjamin-Constant in his time Montreal, Canada Group
2014Lalla Essaydi: Writing the Self Writing Others, Bahrain National MuseumSolo
2014Shared Realtiy Tampere Art Museum + Backlight 2014 Photo Festival: FinlandSolo
2014 Lalla Essaydi James Madison University Museum, Harrisonburg Solo
2014Lalla Essaydi: New Beauty Karen Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco Solo
2014Lalla Essaydi: POÉSIE LUMIÈRE Galerie Tindouf, Marrakech, MoroccoSolo
2014Lalla Essaydi: Beyond Time and BeautyMuseum of Modern Art, Baku, Azerbaijan Solo
2014 Lalla Essaydi The World Bank Art Program, Washington DCGroup
2014Decisive Moments: Photographs from the Cherye R. and James F. Pierce CollectionHonolulu Museum of Art, Group
2014 Lalla Essaydi Centre Culturel Le Botanique, BelgiumGroup
2014FotoFest 2014 Biennial, Houston, Group
2014i.d.e.a. Arizona Museum of Youth: A Way with Words Arizona Museum of Youth, Group
2013Lalla Essaydi: Beyond Beauty Kashya Hildebrand Gallery, LondonSolo
2013Lalla Essaydi Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston Solo
2013Lalla Essaydi: Writing Femininity Writing Pleasure, Oakland University Art Gallery RochesterSolo
2013Lalla Essaydi: BOUNDARIES Amelia Johnson Contemporary, Hong Kong, ChinaSolo
2013Les Femmes du Magreb Orientalist Museum, Doha, QatarSolo
2012Universe Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial, Sharjah, United Arab EmiratesSolo
2012Lalla Essaydi: Revisions, a Retrospective Smithsonian African Museum of Art, Washington D.C. Solo
2012IN FOCUS: Recent Acquisitions in Photography New Britain Museum of American Art, New BritainGroup
2012In Her Eyes: Women Behind and in Front of the Camera Newwark MuseumGroup
2011Harem Jackson Fine Art Gallery, Atlanta, GA Solo
2011Les Femmes du Maroc Karen Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco Solo
2011Lalla Essaydi: Power of Writing National Gallery, Tanger, Morocco Solo
2011Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc National Gallery, Fes, Morocco Solo
2011Lalla Essaydi: Power of Writing Bab Rouah National Gallery, Rabat, Morocco Solo
2011Harem Edwynn Houk Gallery, Zurich, SwitzerlandSolo
2011Sargazers: Elizabeth Catlett In Conversation With 21 Contemporary Artists Bronx Museum Group
2011Résonance : artistes contemporains marocains du monde Musée privé de MarrakechGroup
2010Harem Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York Solo
2010Les Femmes du Maroc Bates Museum of Art, Lewiston Solo
2010Les Femmes du Maroc Longyear Museum of Anthropology, Colgate University, Hamilton Solo
2010Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc Zimmerli Musem at Rutgers, New Brunswick Solo
2010Lalla Essaydi: Femmes du Maroc deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln Solo
2010 Art of Today Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Group
2010Mapping Identity Haverford College, Haverford Group
2010Out of the Box: Photography Portfolios from the Permanent Collection deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, LincolnGroup
2010Patern ID Akron Museum of Art, Akron, OHGroup
2009Aftermath The 25th Alexandria Biennial for Mediterranean Countries Representing MoroccoSolo
2009Les Femmes du MarocSchneider Gallery, Chicago Solo
2009Les Femmes du MarocTindouf Gallery, MoroccoSolo
2009Les Femmes du MarocSultan Gallery, Kuwait City, KuwaitSolo
2009Embodiment, an exhibition of installations Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston Solo
2009Indelible: The Photographs of Lalla Essaydi First Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Solo
2009Camoufage La Casa Enciendida, Madrid, Spain Group
2009Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta Group
2009Ingres et les Modernes Musée Ingres, Montauban, FranceGroup
2009A Complex Weave:Women and Identity in Contemporary Art The Stedman Gallery, RutgersGroup
2009Transitions. Painting at the (other) End of Art The Moramotti collection of contemporary art, Emilia, ItalyGroup
2009Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African BodySan Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA Group
2009Decoding Identity: I Do It for My People Museum of The African DiasporaGroup
2009Timbuktu to Cape Town Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford Group
2009Photographic Figures Museum of Fine Art, Boston Group
2008Lalla Essaydi: Crossroads, Waterhouse & Dodd Gallery London, United KingdomSolo
2008Les Femmes du MarocWitzenhausen Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Solo
2008Les Femmes du MarocAnya Tish Gallery, Houston Solo
2008Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body The Hood Museum of Art Group
2008Far from Home North Carolina Museum of ArtGroup
2007Les Femmes du MarocEdwynn Houk Gallery New York Solo
2007Les Femmes du MarocLisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale Solo
2007Girls on the Verge: Portraits of Adolescence Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
2007Presumed Innocence: Photographic Perspectives of Children DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln Group
2007Contemporary, Cool and Collected Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte Group
2007Byond Likeness North Dakota Museum of Art Group
2007 ON THE WALL: Aperture Magazine ’05-06 Aperture Foundation New York Group
2007 NAZAR The National Museum of Singapore, SingaporeGroup
2007 Don’t Know Much About History Art Space, New Haven Group
2007 The Silk Road and Beyond: Travel, Trade, and Transformation Chicago Art Institute, Chicago Group
2006Les Femmes du MarocSchneider Gallery, Chicago Solo
2006Converging Territories The New Britain Museum of Art, New Britain Solo
2006Converging Territories Joel Soroka Gallery, Aspen Solo
2006Transgressions Williams College Museum, Williamstown Solo
2006Converging TerritoriesAnya Tish Gallery, Houston Solo
2006Converging Territories Jackson Fine Arts, Atlanta Solo
2006Art That Matters: When Politics Get Personal Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City Group
2006Images of the Middle East, Identity in the Process of Change Danish Center for Culture and Development, Copenhagen, DenmarkGroup
2006 NAZARin Berlin, IFA GalleryGroup
2005Embodiments Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta Solo
2005Converging Territories Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston Solo
2005Converging Territories Laurence Miller Gallery, New York Solo
2005Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self Museum of Photographic arts, San Diego Group
2005The Painted Word Lafayette College, Williams Center for the Arts Museum, EastonGroup
2005Surface Laurence Miller Gallery, New York Group
2005UnknownThe 2005 DeCordova Museum Annual ExhibitionsGroup
2005 Rewind Re-Cast Review, Photography show The Ramapo College Art Galleries Group
2005 In the Company of Women Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown Group
2005 About Face: Photographic Portraits from the Collection Chicago Art Institute, Chicago Group
2004Threshold Mario Diacono, Ars Libri, Boston Solo
2004Photographs: Behind Closed Doors, The Lives of Women in Morocco Schneider Gallery, ChicagoSolo
20048th International Photography Gathering Le Pont Gallery, Aleppo, SyriaGroup
2004Some of Their Parts Howard Yezerski Gallery, BostonGroup
2003Converging Territories Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston Solo
2001Photography, One Person Show Schneider Gallery, Chicago Solo