'The physical harem is the dangerous frontier where sacred law and pleasure collide. This is not the harem of the Western Orientalist imagination, an anxiety-free place of euphoria and the absence of constraints, where the word harem has lost its dangerous edge. My harem is based on the historical reality; rather then the artistic images of the West an idyllic, lustful dream of sexually available women, uninhibited by the moral constraints of 19th Century Europe.' (Lalla Essaydi)
In her latest series entitled Harem, Lalla Essaydi pursues her exploration of the Muslim woman's identity, which she had started in her series Converging Territories (2003-2004) and Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008). She continues her technique of decorating the figures in her photographs with calligraphy using henna and their poses are reminiscent of 19th Century Orientalist paintings. However, Essaydi introduces different characteristics in her Harem series, such as seen in the present lot. The architectural setting for her figures is that of the Moroccan Palace Dar El Basha and the women are wearing fabrics decorated with the same elaborate islamic designs as those seen in the palace's mosaics, wood carvings and stained glass. The henna calligraphy is only seen on the women's visible flesh areas, whereas the rest of their bodies are camouflaged with the background's geometric patterns. As in several 19th Century European masterpieces, from Eugène Delacroix to Edouard Manet, Essaydi's models engage the viewer through their staring eyes, in order to re-assert their image in today's society and to provoke the Westerners' traditional representation of women in a harem.