Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, B.1956)
Lots are subject to 5% import Duty on the importat… Read more PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT THE ARTIST'S UPCOMING MONOGRAPH
Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, B.1956)

Harem Revisited #33

Lalla Essaydi (Moroccan, B.1956)
Harem Revisited #33
signed 'Lalla Essaydi' (on a label affixed to the reverse)
chromogenic print mounted on aluminium
71 x 88in. (180.3 x 223.5cm.)
Executed in 2012, this work is number five from an edition of five
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Lot Essay

Using the medium of photography, Moroccan born artist Lalla Essaydi confronts deeply entrenched historical notions about the female identity and womanhood within the context of the Islamic world. Challenging expectations found in historical representations, mainly 19th century Orientalist painting, she interrogates the concept of the 'other,' deconstructing fantastical preconceptions of Middle East, women and their social surroundings.

Christie's is delighted and honoured to be offering, in the Part I sale, two exclusive works from the artist's latest series, to raise funds
towards her upcoming monograph in collaboration with the famous publishing house, ACR edition. The first of these works, titled Harem Revisited #33, is a striking departure, yet continuation, from her two previous series: Converging Territories (2003-2004) and Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008). Evolving as the artist's visual perspective changes, the Harem series are set against the highlycoloured and extravagant architectural setting of the harem quarters within the Moroccan palace Dar Al Basha, depicting the exotic voyeuristic fantasy of the notion of the 'Oriental woman' within the spatial confinement of the space defined as the Harem. In the present work, the female protagonist reclines in the odalisque pose of Orientalist fashion, yet she is camouflaged into the intricate patterns of her surroundings - the portions of her exposed skin are decorated in deliberately indecipherable, calligraphic, hennaed script, providing a subtle veil to shield her figures from the audience's gaze.

Putting careful detail into every element of the construction of her images, Essaydi pushes the process of assembling her images - so much so that production of the imagery almost outshines the final photograph - reflecting the complex multi-layered identities associated with Orientalist depictions. In the Harem Revisited series, she has carefully sourced antique 19th century Moroccan costumes and props from a private collection that have been exhibited at the Kennedy Centre in New York and the Berber Museum at the Majorelle Garden. She re contextualises these patterns into both furniture and clothing and the artificiality of these new patterns therefore disrupts the assumed authenticity of Essaydi's harems. By doing so, Essaydi highlights the fabricated nature of the Orientalised identity, where, unlike the artist's strict use of only Moroccan costumes and props, the Orientalists actually combined several patterns of fabrics and different props from many different Middle Eastern countries and merged them to recreate an artificial 'Arab' fantasy.

The harem quarters were traditionally located in the heart of the magnificent palaces, behind a labyrinth of narrow corridors and closed doors - in this sense the harem was more of an oppressive space, rather than one that fulfilled the Western male fascination and hedonistic fantasy. In fact the word 'Harem' comes from the Arabic word 'haram' or sin. In reality, the Harem as a pace was thus a multiple reference to sin, space and women (in Arabic, Harem can also be translated as a group of women). Essaydi thus chooses in her composition to explore the thin lines between all these associations. By playing on these Western stereotypes, we are forced to reflect back on our own misconceptions and prejudices.

In Bullet Revisited #3, like Harem Revisited #33, Essaydi too chooses to capture her model within the Orientalist lexicon. Similar to her construction of space in previous works, here Essaydi uses bullet shells to create hypnotising patterns in the background and text that omit a sense of opulency and glamour. It is only on closer inspection that the viewer's attention is brought to Essaydi's new choice of medium. In this revelation, the female subject recedes, leaving the viewer's eyes anchored by jewellery made of spent machinegun shells. Providing a commentary on notions of violence and of course on the pre-conceived notions of the 'West' towards the 'East,' these direct allusions to violence, and in turn fanaticism, elevate Essaydi's work to a more pronounced social commentary on contemporary perceptions of Arabs, but once again in the backdrop of a traditional context. The shimmering colours of black, gold and white conjure up images of animal prints - as such, the model, covered in these patterns and simultaneously merged into her surroundings as a single entity, has become somewhat feline in her appearance and she emits a faint undertone of danger in her silent, yet visually arresting gaze. The model at once appears a controlled commodity to consume and be consumed, an object of desire to be dominated, yet with her confidence, her gaze implies she is aware of how she is being viewed and the power in fact rests in her hands - the gaze implied by Essaydi's choice to use photography as a medium suggests the manipulation and consequent creation of an image as separate from reality - much like what are essentially clichés of the East through the lens of Western desire.

By drawing heavily on the Orientalist painting iconography synonymous with 19th century artists such as Ingres, Delacroix and Constant, she provides a contemporary reflection on challenging the viewer to reconsider the Orientalist notion of the 'East' versus the 'West,' of men versus women. In doing so, Essaydi produces visually arresting images that instigate dialogue within their breathtaking beauty. Capturing the attention of art critics, museum curators and collectors alike, Lalla Essaydi's work is presented in a number of collections, including the Williams College Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Fries Museum, the Netherlands; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Kodak Museum of Art, Rochester, New York; The Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; The Kresge Art Museum, Michigan, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York and the Louvre Museum, Paris, amongst many others. Her series of works are currently being exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

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