Converging Territories Essaydi

"My photographs are about the women subjects' participation in contributing to the greater emancipation of Arab women, while at the same time conveying to an outside audience a very rich tradition of practice, relationships, and ideas that are so often misunderstood and misrepresented in the West." —Lalla Essaydi


Lalla Essaydi's photographs deal with a rebellion against the limited domain of the female within Islamic traditions. As noted in Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World (Aperture, 2005), according to Islamic tradition, the street is the domain of men, and women are condemned to live indoors. Behind closed doors, they are nothing more than decoration, suggests Essaydi, a situation she that she vividly represents in Converging Territories, which appeared in the spring 2005 issue of Aperture magazine alongside a text written by Isolde Brielmaier. Essaydi places Islamic women in isolated spaces and literally decorates them with texts written in henna. The texts—a reversal of the silence of their isolation—give the women a voice, with which they can speak to the space and to one another. The rebellious character of the photographs is magnified by the fact that within Islam calligraphy cannot be practiced by women.


Converging Territories #30 was photographed in the house where women and girls from the artist's family were locked up, sometimes for weeks, when they transgressed the rules of Islam. Essaydi herself was sent to this space as a youth; escorted by silent servants, she would be left alone for up to a month. As Isolde Brielmaier notes, "her intention and introspection are evident in her photographs: we see Essaydi turning 'space' into something more than just the delimited enclosures of that house of her childhood."


Lalla Essaydi’s (born Marrakech, Morocco, 1956) work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Columbus Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and many others.

$ 20

Order from the powerHouse Arena Shop  

ISBN: 9781576872567


According to Islamic tradition, men dominate the public sphere and women are expected to remain indoors at most times. In photographer Lalla Essaydi’s native Morocco this confinement has been further used as a punishment for those who transgress the rules of gender conduct. A practice only recently abandoned, women were at times even required to spend periods as long as a month inside otherwise uninhabited homes. In an exploration into her home country and her childhood Essaydi reverses the meaning of these spaces in Converging Territories, using them as a place where women are seen, not hidden.

Essaydi’s subjects are given a voice not only through their actions, but also through the written word. The women pose after long sessions during which Essaydi covers their clothing and few areas of exposed skin, as well as the rooms themselves, with Islamic calligraphy. The rebelliousness of this act is added to by the fact that the words are drawn with henna—a form of adornment considered “women’s work.” In a seeming contrast, the calligraphy used is a sacred Islamic art form that was once inaccessible to women. As an artist living and educated in the West, Essaydi explores her past and family with this highly personal work. Meanwhile, her images reflect the complex female identities found in Morocco and other Muslim societies—and give women the opportunity to engage in the emerging culture of Islamic feminism.
Paperback with flaps, 11 x 8.5 inches, 32 pages, 20 four-color photographs

ISBN: 978-1-57687-256-7

Photographs by Lalla Essaydi
Essay by Amanda Carlson

Art Photo / Artist’s Book / Conceptual

According to Islamic tradition, men dominate the public sphere and women are expected to remain indoors at most times. In photographer Lalla Essaydi’s native Morocco this confinement has been further used as a punishment for those who transgress the rules of gender conduct. A practice only recently abandoned, women were at times even required to spend periods as long as a month inside otherwise uninhabited homes. In an exploration into her home country and her childhood Essaydi reverses the meaning of these spaces in Converging Territories, using them as a place where women are seen, not hidden.

Essaydi’s subjects are given a voice not only through their actions, but also through the written word. The women pose after long sessions during which Essaydi covers their clothing and few areas of exposed skin, as well as the rooms themselves, with Islamic calligraphy. The rebelliousness of this act is added to by the fact that the words are drawn with henna—a form of adornment considered “women’s work.” In a seeming contrast, the calligraphy used is a sacred Islamic art form that was once inaccessible to women. As an artist living and educated in the West, Essaydi explores her past and family with this highly personal work. Meanwhile, her images reflect the complex female identities found in Morocco and other Muslim societies—and give women the opportunity to engage in the emerging culture of Islamic feminism.

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’s current work consists of analog photography, but she has also worked in oil on canvas, mixed media, and video. She has exhibited at the Schneider Gallery, Chicago; the Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston; the Fries Museum, the Netherlands; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Converging Territories is to accompany a solo exhibition at the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York in January 2005. Essaydi was born in Morocco and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Amanda Carlson is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Hartford. She held the Stuart S. Golding Endowed Chair in African Art at the University of South Florida from 1992 to 2000. Carlson, a former Fulbright Scholar, has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. Her forthcoming works include the books Africa in Florida, The Field’s Edge: Agency, Body, Lens and the documentary film Cross the Water. Carlson lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.

0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *