Isabella from Germany is a regular reader and a blogger friend. So as usual I hopped across her to her interesting blog Anarkali & was struck by these pictures & how could I not share this! Calligraphy and that too Islamic - I had to find out more. These photographs are part of a solo exhibition at the DeCordova Musuem [close to Boston] by Lalla Essaydi, a New York-based, Moroccan-born photographer, painter, and installation artist. Over the past decade, she has risen to international prominence with her timely and beautiful work that deals with the condition of women in Islamic society, cross-cultural identity, Orientalism, and the history of art.
This particular series called Les Femmes du Maroc is a modification of Les Femmes d’Algiers, a painting created by French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix in 1834.
Ingres, Jean Auguste Dominique (1780-1867). The Great Odalisque. 1819. Photo: Thierry Le Mage. Louvre, Paris, France. Image: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
Almost all the photographs in Les Femmes du Maroc are based on specific nineteenth-century European and American Orientalist paintings. Essaydi has, however, radically transformed the antecedents. While she retains the compositions, gestures, and general costume of the original paintings, she strips them of their opulent colors, removes male figures (or transforms them into women), erases any cues to social status, clothes all nudity, and simplifies the settings by eliminating props and attributes while introducing all-over draperies, and of course her ubiquitous calligraphy.
"In Islamic cultures, until very recently, calligraphy was an art form practiced exclusively by men for the transcription of sacred texts from the Qur’an, the Hadith, and other sacred writings. Henna is traditionally a women’s art—domestic, decorative, ritual, and erotic. And Essaydi’s text is her own, taken from her journals."
Les Femmes du Maroc also involves a changed approach to text. In earlier photographs, Essaydi’s calligraphy was legible, and communicated her own ideas about cultural identity, memory, communication, and artistic and intellectual freedom. In the recent work, the text is obscured by its presentation—loosely applied, obscured by shifts in scale and the overlapping of figures and draperies, at pitched angles, with words applied atop words like a palimpsest. Even readers of Arabic cannot fully make out its meanings, which are deeply personal and intentionally kept that way.