Photographs by Lalla Essaydi: L’Écriture Féminine / Le Corps Féminin

For followers of women's rights in the Arab world, the headlines of the past few months have been bitterly disappointing. "Women Among the Biggest Losers in Arab Spring," announced one recent news story, while another shouted, "Why does the world ignore violence against Arab women in public spaces?" The question is vexing because of the prominent role that women played in the Arab Spring revolutions that transformed the Middle East. Lalla Essaydi sees those headlines and recoils, but as a prominent artist from the Arab world who now lives in the United States, she can make photos that seem an emphatic antidote to the news from Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.

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Design for Lalla Essaydi's exhibition catalogue at Baku MoMA. Created with A+B Studio.

Essaydi acknowledges, and turns to her own devices, the power of writing in the Muslim world. Despite the traditional restriction of Arabic calligraphy to male practitioners, she inscribes every element in her photographs—women, clothing, furnishings—with elegant North African maghribi calligraphy. Furthermore, she uses henna, a bodily embellishment worn and applied only by women to mark life’s most important transitions, including puberty, marriage, and the birth of a first child. Essaydi thus “makes a significant and highly original contribution to écriture féminine . . . .”

Lalla Essaydi: "Les Femmes du Maroc: La Grand Odalisque," 2008

Lalla Essaydi: "Bullets #3," 2009

Lalla Essaydi (LE): The exhibition is about revising stereotypes and it is the first solo exhibition to bring together works of diverse media. In that holistic context, they display the depth of my engagement with different media, art historical conventions, and diverse cultural histories, as well as my technical mastery of composition and color. It is a retrospective.