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12 / Conflict and Resistance

Converging Territories #30
Converging Territories #30
Artist / Origin Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, b. 1956)
Region: Africa
Date 2004/5
Material C-41 print, face-mounted on plexiglass and aluminum
Dimensions H: 30 in. (76.2 cm.), W: 40 in. (101.1 cm)
Credit © 2004 Lalla Essaydi

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Lalla EssaydiArtist

Additional Resources

Baiey, David A., and Gilane Tawadros, eds. Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 2003.

Becker, Cynthia J. “Art, Self-Censorship, and Public Discourse: Contemporary Moroccan Artists at the Crossroads.” Contemporary Islam 3.2 (July 2009): 143–66.

Carlson, Amanda, and Lalla Essaydi. Lalla Essaydi: Converging Territories. New York: Powerhouse Books, 2005.

“Lalla Essaydi.” In Feminist Art Base. Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum Web site. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base.

Thompson, Barbara. “Decolonizing Black Bodies: Personal Journeys in the Contemporary Voice.” In Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body. Exhibition catalogue. Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2008.

Converging Territories #30

» Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, b. 1956)

In this photograph, number thirty in Lalla Essaydi’s Converging Territories series, we see a progression of Muslim women at four different stages in life from childhood to adulthood.

As they age, their bodies are increasingly concealed, so that the most mature member of the group is completely covered head to foot. Calligraphic script, written in henna, marks the surfaces of everything in the work—the faces of the younger women, the cloth worn by all four figures, and the fabric draped over the wall and floor.

Essaydi, a Moroccan-born, Paris-trained artist, created the Converging Territories series as a means of examining the culture in which she grew up from the Western position she now occupies (Essaydi currently lives in the U.S.). Although women in present-day Morocco are not compelled to wear a veil, images like this one speak to the physical as well as metaphorical restrictions placed on women in conservative Islamic society, where they are confined largely to the architecture of the home. The continuous stream of writing in the photograph creates a decorative image in which the women and setting become almost inseparable. At the same time, the sea of words is liberating. It both adds a sense of fluid mobility to the scene and gives the artist and her subjects (usually women with similar backgrounds to her own) a voice. Drawn from Essaydi’s own diaries, the words are evidence of an interior life of the imagination as well.

Because calligraphy traditionally had been taught only to Muslim men, the text in Essaydi’s work takes on added meaning. In writing with henna, Essaydi embraces her cultural heritage and its gender roles. In Islamic practice, henna designs are applied by and on women during significant rites of passage and times of celebration. Yet, the self-taught calligrapher is also exercising her freedoms here. If this all seems contradictory, it is not without reason. “In my art,” Essaydi has explained, “I wish to present myself through multiple lenses as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite viewers to resist stereotypes.”

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