Les Femmes du Maroc: Reclining Odalisque



The Dangerous Frontier

Kashya Hildebrand
London, United Kingdom

April 24 - June 5 2015

Book Signing: Thursday April 23, 2015 6 - 9 PM

Kashya Hildebrand is pleased to announce Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi’s second exhibition with the gallery in London. Where Essaydi’s 2013 show served as a retrospective spanning five major bodies of work from 2003 to 2012, The Dangerous Frontier (24 April – 5 June 2015) focuses on new works created in the last year as part of her Bullets Revisited series. Essaydi’s photographs are the result of a complex performance-based medium comprising painting, calligraphy, interior design, costume design, stage directing, and finally photography. This meticulous process of image making is crucial to Essaydi’s oeuvre. The uncropped white borders of the film with the Kodak brand made visible emphasise that she fabricated her settings and identities, mocking the Orientalists’ invented fantasy scenes, yet hers are based on historical, social, and cultural facts.

Throughout her work, Essaydi uses henna painting, using it to write intricate calligraphic text over every available surface – from the models themselves to their clothing and even the walls themselves. This henna painting comes to elaborately conceal the uncovered parts of the female bodies and in this sense assumes an allegorical dimension: even their bare skin becomes her canvas as she covers their ankles, legs, arms, wrists and faces in row upon row of tight script. What is key here is that the art of calligraphy itself is traditionally a male-dominated realm, yet Essaydi takes it and uses it with the ultra-feminine medium of henna dye (used by women to create decorative patterns for special occasions such as weddings). “By reclaiming the rich tradition of calligraphy and interweaving it with the traditionally female art of henna,” she explains, “I have been able to express, and yet, in another sense, dissolve the contradictions I have encountered in my culture: between hierarchy and fluidity, between public and private space, between the richness and the confining aspects of Islamic traditions.”

In her Bullets [and Bullets Revisited] series, Essaydi takes her creativity to another level, not only through the assiduous labour involved in the production of these photographs but also through the powerful imagery she presents. The models and their surroundings are elegantly adorned with sparkling golden fabrics and metallic materials, giving an impression of shimmering luxury. Upon closer inception, it is the military juxtapositions of carefully cut and polished bullet casings that build up these glamorous trompe l’oeil images. Despite this apparent blinding beauty, where ammunition is even hand sewn on the models’ clothes, jewels, and beds, Essaydi uses the bullet as a disturbing metaphor for the hidden violence endured by women in some Islamic cultures.

At the same time, Essaydi’s models are depicted as femmes fatales, equipped with threatening weapons with which they shield themselves against Western voyeurism and male domination. The coldness of the bullets’ brass conveys a feeling of uneasiness and rejects the warm colours and ambiance found in Orientalist paintings. The Bullets settings reproduce more faithfully Orientalist harems’ décor, yet transform these domestic spaces into psychological ones, tormented by violence. Talking about Orientalism, Essaydi stated that “beauty is quite dangerous, as it lures the viewer into accepting the fantasy” yet she subverts the danger of beauty in her Bullets series by seducing the viewer in a much more perilous world, that of war and destruction raging through contemporary society with the Arab Spring.

Photographs: Lalla Essaydi

San Diego Museum of Art
San Deigo, California, USA

March 28 - August 4 2015

Moroccan-born, New York-based photographer Lalla Essaydi (b. 1956) explores issues surrounding the role of women in Arab culture and their representation in the western European artistic tradition. Her large-scale photographs are based on nineteenth-century Orientalist paintings, but work to subvert those stereotyped and sexualized representations. Aside from their timely and provocative subject matter, Essaydi’s photographs are technically impressive. Behind each of her images is weeks of preparation, as the text is composed, the fabrics are dyed to match the setting in which they will appear, and the architectural backdrops are carefully constructed. The entire field of the almost life-size photographs appears in sharp focus, the result of her use of a large-format camera and traditional film.

Lalla Essaydi: Photographs includes ten works from three different series—Les Femmes du Maroc, Harem, and Bullets Revisited—presented in spaces throughout the museum. One group will be shown in the gallery dedicated to contemporary art, while others will be shown in the context of the Museum's Permanent Collection: alongside examples of historic Middle Eastern tilework and calligraphy; with related European paintings; and as part of the discourse of Modern art.

Press Release



Ten The Exhibition

Arab American National Museum
Dearborn, Michigan, USA

May 8 - October 4 2015

IIn celebration of the Arab American National Museum’s 10th Anniversary Year, we proudly present the work of 10 exemplary Arab American artists. Their diverse range of works explores concepts of representation, identity and migration. Many of these challenges are universal among immigrants, but contain aspects unique to the Arab American community experience.
This exhibition was guest curated by art historian, writer and gallery art director
Maymanah Farhat.

Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, California, USA

February 1 2015

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East, the first major exhibition of LACMA's holdings of Middle Eastern contemporary art—the largest such institutional collection in the United States. In recent years, the parameters of Islamic art at LACMA have expanded to include contemporary works by artists from or with roots in the Middle East. Drawing inspiration from their own cultural traditions, these artists use techniques and incorporate imagery and ideas from earlier periods. As the first of a two-part exhibition program, Islamic Art Now features 25 works—including photography, sculpture, video, and installation—by 20 artists from Iran and the Arab world, including Wafaa Bilal, Lalla Essaydi, Hassan Hajjaj, Mona Hatoum, Susan Hefuna, Youssef Nabil, Shirin Neshat, and Mitra Tabrizian, among others. Most of the works in Islamic Art Now have never been displayed previously at LACMA. "The works of art in this exhibition are a contemporary counterpart to LACMA's world-renowned historical Islamic art collection and demonstrate the deep connection between past and present," said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. "Within the last decade, LACMA has collected major artworks by some of the most influential Middle Eastern and diaspora artists working today. We are thrilled to share some highlights of the museum’s collection in the context of this exhibition."


Press Release


Shared Reality

Tampere Art Museum
Tampere, Finland

Backlight ´14 Photo Festival

September 6, 2014 - January 4, 2015

By using the language of the arts, "Shared Reality" is an analysis and an attempt to survey the forces which holds societies in the Middle East together or apart at this crucial time in its history. What makes this show interesting and what should hopefully be concluded as a result of this presentation in my view, is not necessary a direct answer to the complex question posed, but rather this understanding that the socio-cultural structure of each of the Middle Eastern societies and even communities combined with stages of their social and political evolvement indicates that each and every society in this region is leading its very unique approach to its present challenges and a reliable understanding and reading of the art of this region will differ depending on one's knowledge of its cultural heritage and diversity.

Press Release

Lalla Essaydi

Edwyn Houk Gallery
Zurich, Switzerland

January 28 - March 14 2015

In the Harem series (2009) Essaydi continues to explore many of the themes characteristic of her earlier work but in an entirely new setting, Dar al Basha, a vibrant architectural Moroccan palace. The artist designed fabric for the subjects that mimic the patterns within the palace, which is decorated in painstaking detail with mosaic, stucco, stained glass and carved wood. Having navigated the labyrinthine corridors to reach the actual harem quarters, the subjects are at once camouflaged with the decoration that surrounds them and emerge from the traditional spaces they once occupied. In Harem Revisited (2012-2013), Essaydi’s subjects are clothed in elaborate caftans and their environments are now covered with richly adorned fabrics. These vintage textiles, which were created between the 17th century to the early 20th century for use in wedding ceremonies, to decorate palaces and the harem area, were all generously loaned to Essaydi from the Nour and Boubker Temli collection. Coinciding with the Harem series, Essaydi began Bullets and Bullets Revisited (2009-2014). In these series, seen by many as Essaydi’s most controversial to date, she has meticulously sewn thousands of bullet casings together creating a sea of gold that is draped from ceiling to floor, imparting physical and psychological weight on her subjects. Essaydi writes that “Throughout the photographs, women’s clothing contain real bullet casings. The clothes, in other words, will form empty shells, depicting women as they can only exist in the minds of others, women without selves or identities of their own. In this way, I suggest how both traditional Orientalism and today’s withdrawal into the false security of a simplified, repressive past, distort the lives of women and deprive these lives of value.” Lalla Essaydi, 2014

Press Release







Musée Champollion

Figeac, France

Écritures Contemporaines 
July 8 – November 3 2016, Opening Reception: July 7th

The National Gallery of Art

Washington, D.C.
Intersections: Photographs and Videos from the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art
May 29, 2016 – January 2, 2017

The William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art, California Lutheran University

Thousand Oaks, California
Material Culture
August 26 – October 27, 2016

Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines, Iowa, USA
Alchemy: Transformations in Gold
February – May 2017
Exhibition will be traveling to another venue, to be announced.




In May of 2012, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston honored photographer and SMFA alumna Lalla Essaydi (MFA 2003)
with the 17th annual Medal Award, which is presented annually to individuals who have made a significant and lasting impact on the art world.

Read the announcement here.

for a complete bibliography, click here

She Who Tells a Story: Lalla Essaydi Broad Strokes May 2016 (PDF)

Middle Eastern Photographers capture small joys amid big conflics Women in the World May 2016 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi, de l'autre cote du miroir Le Maroc des Femmes May 2016 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: Crossing Boundaries, Bridging Cultures Woman's Art Journal Spring/ Summer 2016 (PDF)

Women of the Interior Harper's Bazaar September 2015 (PDF)

At LA Art Museum, A Powerful and Provacative Look at Islamic Art Now NPR May 2015 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: The Dangerous Frontier Islamic Arts Magazine April 2015 (PDF)

New Images by and of Arab and Iranian Women defy stereotypes San Francisco Chronicle February 2015 (PDF)

The Veiled Feminism of Moroccan Born Photographer Lalla Essaydi Huffington Post February 2015 (PDF)

'Beyond the Veil' uncovers mysteries of Arab femail identies Lowel Sun February 2015 (PDF)

"Crossing Boundaries Briding Cultures" Le Mag February 2015 (PDF)

Review: The Dangerous Fronteir Sqwzl February 2015 (PDF)

Middle Eastern Titans: Top 20 Contemporary Middle Eastern Artists in 2012-2014, CharChub October 2014 (PDF)

Haunted Spaces: Photographs Explore the Arab Female Identity, Wall Street Journal, June 2014 (PDF)


Photos examine women’s roles in Middle East, Atlanta Journal Constitution, June 2014 (PDF)

The Middle East's New Lens, Saudia Armco World, May 2014 (PDF)

The Middle East's New Lens, Intense Art Magazine, May 2014 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: New Beauty, Art Practical, February 2014

Contemporary Arts in the Middle East and North Africa, Elfoonoon, January 2014 (PDF)

Dressed for Revolt: A Photographer's Moroccan Portraits Reinstate Women at the Forefront of the Arab Spring, SF Weekly, February 2014 (PDF)

Lead, henna, and women in traditional costumes in Moroccan artists Lalla Essaydi's exhibition, Asharq Al Awsat, January 2014 (PDF Arabic)

Azerbaijan, Art Asia Pacific: Almanac, January 2014 (PDF)

Azerbaijan: Lalla Essaydi Beyond Time and Beauty, World Art Guide, December 2013 (PDF)

News from Abroad, Genc Sanat, December 2013 (PDF Turkish)

East is East, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, December 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: Revisions, African Arts, Winter 2013 (PDF)

Where Sacred Law And Pleasure Collide: The Photographs of Lalla Essaydi, Blouin Art Info, December 2013 (PDF)

Islamic World Through Women's Eyes, The New York Times, December 2013 (PDF)

Refuting Orientalism: Lalla Essaydi at Baku Museum of Modern Art, Art Radar Asia, December 2013 (PDF)

Baku MoMA Presents Lalla Essaydi: Beyond Time and Beauty Exhibition, YARAT, November 2013 (PDF EN / PDF AZ)

Leyla Aliyeva views Lalla Essaydi`s Beyond Time and Beauty exhibition, Trend AZ, November 2013 (PDF EN / PDF AZ)

Lalla Essaydi in "Beyond Time and Beauty," at the Museum of Modern Art, Baku-Art, November 2013, (PDF AZ)

Across the canvas: highlights from canvas guide, Canvas Daily, November 2013 (PDF)

Reviewed: Lalla Essaydi: Beyond Beauty, Artworld Now, November 2013 (PDF)

A Retrospective Exhibition of the Artist Lalla Essaydi in London, Asharg Al-Awsat, November 2013 (PDF)

Au-delà des stéréotypes, Maroc Hebdo International, November 2013 (PDF)

Leyla Aliyeva views Lalla Essaydi's Beyond Time and Beauty exhibition, Haberler, November 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi, Beyond Time and Beauty, Wallstreet International Travel, November 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi's Beyod Time and Beauty exhibition held in Baku, Sia, November 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi e la bellezza dell'Harem, l'Espresso, November 2013 (PDF)

Review of Beyond Truth and Beauty at the Baku Museum, IDFAINC, November 2013 (PDF)

Une Année 2014 Dense Pour L'artiste Lalla Essaydi, Le 360, November 2013 (PDF)

Visions of the Islamic world Behind the veil, The Economist, October 2013 (PDF)

An interview with artist Lalla Essaydi on looking beyond beauty, Africa is a Country, September 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: Writing Femininity, Writing Pleasure, Oakland University Art Gallery, September 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi Outside "Harem" Walls, Canvas Magazine, July 2012 (PDF)

Traditions Rooted in the World of Women, Surface Design Joural, Spring 2013 (PDF)

Writing Women: Interview With Lalla Essaydi, ArtAsiaPacific, March 2013 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi’s Dangerous Beauties, Smithsonian Associates, November 2012 (PDF)

Moroccan-Born Essaydi Shatters Gender Stereotypes, The Washington Diplomat, October 2, 2012 (PDF)

A tale of two Moroccan women exposes myths of Arab identity, The National, September 8, 2012 (PDF)

Artistic Depictions of Arab Women: An Interview with Artist Lalla Essaydi, Jadalyya: Arab Studies Journal, May 16, 2012 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, “ My art work is really my history.”  Washington Post, May 9, 2012 (PDF)

Lalla Essaydi: Revisions, PBS News Hour, May 9, 2012 (PDF)