Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc
Edwynn Houk Gallery
September 28 – November 21, 2007
In Les Femmes du Maroc, Lalla Essaydi revisits her past. She was born in Morocco and lived in Saudi Arabia for many years before moving to Boston, where she received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2003. In these recent photographs, which are blown up to large scale, Essaydi addresses the lives and identities of women in Islamic societies. Her perspective, shaped by personal experience in both Arabic and Western societies, is sensitive and insightful. She fuses intimate portrait photography with Islamic calligraphy in a distinctive style that employs compositional structures derived from 19th-Century Orientalist painting. The depictions of harem scenes by Delacroix, Ingres and Matisse come to mind, as well as Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, whose work has long focused on women’s social, political and psychological experiences in contemporary Islamic societies.
However, Essaydi has her own clear voice. Her subject is not new, but her treatment is convincing, tranquil and elegant. Her palette is minimal. Nuances of crème and henna are dominant, with only the dark eyes of the women adding the occasional dramatic contrast. Meanwhile, calligraphy weaves through the pictures like knots of yarn in a carpet, covering bodies, gowns and backgrounds alike. Here, language provides visual texture and rhythm, its traditional implications superseded by a strong contemporary aesthetic. It is this stylistic simplicity that prevents Essaydi’s work from slipping into ornamentation. Nevertheless, historic associations are close at hand, such as the famous Aleppo room (16th Century, Syria) now in the collection of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The room, built by a rich
Les Femmes du Maroc is set within an unoccupied house, owned by the artist’s family, where Essaydi was sent as a punishment for childhood disobedience. With this in mind, one cannot help but think of these interiors as a land of bad dreams. In her work, Essaydi has discussed the customs in Muslim countries that confine women to private spaces, such as the home, while men expand into the public domain. For the women, imagination becomes the only refuge. These images remind me of the poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s lyrics from 1842, which in 1848 would express the spirit of the German March Revolution. The beginning goes: “Thoughts are free who could guess them? They fly by like nightly shadows. No human can know them, no hunter can shoot them…”
By employing calligraphy, an Islamic art form reserved exclusively for men, Essaydi empowers her subjects as well as liberates them from traditional restrictions. Her women are strong and forever mysterious, since society’s strictures circumscribe most forms of contact. Their expressions are subtle, well measured and never provocative. Their white burkas, covered with calligraphed words, seem to fuse with the background. The women become one with the thoughts that surround them, as if their secrets and spirit have themselves become illustrations of their surroundings. Yet they cannot avoid the misfortune of possessing no outlet of expression, of being fated to perpetual silence. This voicelessness, contrasted with such a wealth of words, is at the core of the complexity of Arab female identity and a true tragedy for any human being.
Candor Arts: The Chicago-Based Press Reenvisioning Equity in Arts PublishingBy Leah Gallant
APRIL 2022 | Art Books
The organization aims to restructure art publishing to fairly compensate all contributors, rather than one in which artists pay exorbitant costs to publish their work. These publishing projects function like an archive of the Chicago arts during the six years the press was active. Ranging from poetry chapbooks to photo portfolios, the more than editions produced also include the monographs accompanying major museum exhibitions.
Center for Book ArtsBy Megan N. Liberty
MARCH 2023 | ArTonic
Wandering around the flower district of Manhattan, you may be surprised to see a green flag hanging high above the flowers, signaling the location of the Center for Book Arts (CBA) on the third floor, where it has been located since 1999. As artist and designer Ben Denzer recently wrote to me, Despite coming and going to CBA all the time, I can never really get over how much of an unexpected gem it is. The fact that this book utopia is hiding on the third floor of a random building on 27th street has always made me look at all NYC buildings as if each might contain delightful secrets inside.
Nuestra Casa: Rediscovering the Treasures of The Hispanic Society Museum & LibraryBy David Carrier
MARCH 2022 | ArtSeen
Because the Hispanic Society is in Washington Heights, Manhattan, it has until recently had a marginal position in the New York art world. Although its only about 75 blocks uptown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that can seem a long journey to the busy critic. I, at least, confess that in all my years of reviewing, Id never visited this institution. And so, right now, while the museum is closed for renovations, I came because a selection of the best works is on display. How amazing that it took me all of these years to get uptown to see the best portrait in a New York City museum, Francisco de Goyas The Duchess of Alba (1797).
Visiting the Acropolis MuseumBy Krzysztof Wodiczko
DEC 22–JAN 23 | Special Report
Wounded, mutilated, and dismembered by wars, ancient war sculpturessuch as these of heroes of Persian, Trojan wars and embattled mythological godsare perceived by the Museum visitors as romantic ruins of idealized antiquity, rather than as the horrifying forensic evidence of wars atrocities and as the masterpieces of war art implicated in cultural perpetuation of such atrocities through their aesthetic sanctification of armed violence.