Lalla Essaydi Harem Seriesflv

A major new exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center, She Who Tells a Story, presents the pioneering work of 12 leading women photographers from Iran and the Arab world. The artists explore identity, narrative, representation, and war in daily life, inviting a broader understanding of the Middle East than what Westerners glean through media reports. The 79 photographs and two videos—a collection of stories about contemporary life—especially refute the belief that women from this region are oppressed and powerless. The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) and runs at the Cantor, its only West-Coast venue, January 28 through May 4.

The 81 works, created almost entirely within the last decade, range in style from fine art to photojournalism and represent the women’s diverse perspectives. The photographers are: Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian. In Arabic, the word rawiya means "she who tells a story," and through their work, these 12 pioneering artists collectively portray a region that has undergone unparalleled change and endured continuing conflict.

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Opening reception: Thursday, 4 November, 6 - 8 pm

Edwynn Houk Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of fifteen large-scale photographs by Lalla Essaydi from the artist’s most recent series, Harem. The show will take place from 4 November 2010 through 22 January 2011 with an opening reception for the artist on Thursday, 4 November from 6-8 PM.

Born in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi has been examining the role of the Muslim woman by incorporating layers of Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna, in tandem with poses directly inspired by 19th Century Orientalist painting. By appropriating this imagery, the works reflect the “complex female identities” found in Morocco and throughout the Muslim world.

While she continues to explore many of the themes and visual devices characteristic of her earlier work, Lalla Essaydi’s newest body of work, Harem, is a striking departure from her two previous series: Converging Territories (2003-2004) and Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008). Perhaps the most marked difference in the Harem series is the highly-colored, elaborate, architectural setting of the Moroccan palace Dar al Basha. The artist created fabric for the models that mimics the patterns within the palace, which is decorated in painstaking detail with mosaic, stucco, stained glass and carved wood. Having navigated the labyrinthine corridors to reach the actual harem quarters, the models are at once camouflaged with the decoration that surrounds them and emerging from the traditional spaces they once occupied. Essaydi’s photographs provide the opportunity for the artist and her subjects to engage in the emerging “culture of Islamic feminism.”

“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, 2010

Lalla Essaydi’s work is represented 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 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; The Colorado Museum of Art, Colorado; The Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis; the Jordan National Museum; the North Carolina Museum of Art; the Neuberger Museum; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and The Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

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