Lalla Essaydi's captivating portrayals of the female form possess a sense of beauty that operates outside the norm of its traditional definition. Her unique approach to redefining space, shape and character through a distinct revisiting of her Moroccan roots creates a unique photographic harmony between East and West. By drawing heavily on the Orientalist painting iconography synonymous with 19th century artists such as Ingres, Delacroix and Constant, Essaydi 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. The beauty and sense of riddled purity that she has the ability to evoke from her young sitters is unlike the work of any photographer. A striking feature of her creations is the dynamic new world she crafts on the photographic plane. She succeeds in maintaining the familiarity of contemporaneous culture while similarly highlighting traditional elements of Moroccan and oriental methods of decoration in an unrivalled way.
The fascinating intricacies of her photographs are impossible to ignore. A feature that is synonymous to the success of these works is the inclusion of henna calligraphy delicately written over the exposed skin of her sitters. 'Henna is a crucial element in the life of a Moroccan woman, and is associated with the major celebrations in her life.' (D. Nasser-Khadivi & A-C. Rafif (eds.), Lalla Essaydi Crossing Boundaries Bridging Cultures, Paris 2015, p. 11). Its prominent use throughout her works are indicative of a symbolic homage to a woman's right of passage through life and their will to express themself within the male-dominated society, while it evidently pays homage to the Islamic visual language. Drawing inspiration from the imagery close to her heart, the photographer does not try to represent a stereotype of Arab women and their misunderstood representation in society both in the Middle East and on a global scale, but rather Essaydi draws on the imagery of her childhood to represent the strength of her roots and her quest to find her own inner voice.
Christie's is delighted to be offering the present work from the Bullets Revisited series, unlike her Harem Revisited series, 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 cliché of the East through the lens of Western desire.