1/14/06 - 5/14/06

Lalla Essaydi

Stefanie Spray Jandl, Mellon Associate Curator for Academic Programs

The exhibition juxtaposes Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)’s iconic painting The Slave Market (1866), generously loaned by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, with four paintings by contemporary artist Lalla Essaydi (b. Morocco, 1956). Together, the works in this installation form a dialogue across space, time, and cultures.

All of the paintings in the exhibition depict classically rendered figures and evocative architectural settings. While the French picture invites voyeurism and stereotypes the so-called ‘Orient,’ Essaydi’s figures gaze right back at us and command respect, be they male, female, or hermaphrodite. Complementing the monumental photographs of women, for which she is already well known, these paintings challenge our assumptions of North Africa to foster cross-cultural awareness.

Artist Statement

In a sense, I am a Western artist, making art in a style I was unable to use in my home country, Morocco. But I am also the slave girl of that painting, in that I am a woman from an Arab culture. And, to go a step further, I am Gérôme, painting nude subjects. I want in my paintings to combine all these elements, in order to engage the whole problem of myself as “other”…

In my paintings, I am hoping not only to expose the Orientalist gaze, and the facile assumptions it has engendered, but also to present my own culture as honestly as I can. Above all, I try to present myself in something like my true complexity—as a woman, as an Arab woman living in the West, mediating between worlds, as an artist. It is not a fixed identity, but one that is changing as the world changes and as my life changes…

–Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi received a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1999 and an M.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University in 2003. Essaydi works in a variety of media, including analog photography, oil on canvas, mixed media, and video. Her photographs have been the subject of the exhibition Converging Territories, and she has been included in numerous group exhibitions including the critically acclaimed Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World.