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Converging Territories

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ISBN: 9781576872567

According to Islamic tradition, men dominate the public sphere and women are expected to remain indoors at most times. In photographer Lalla Essaydi’s native Morocco this confinement has been further used as a punishment for those who transgress the rules of gender conduct. A practice only recently abandoned, women were at times even required to spend periods as long as a month inside otherwise uninhabited homes. In an exploration into her home country and her childhood Essaydi reverses the meaning of these spaces in Converging Territories, using them as a place where women are seen, not hidden.

Essaydi’s subjects are given a voice not only through their actions, but also through the written word. The women pose after long sessions during which Essaydi covers their clothing and few areas of exposed skin, as well as the rooms themselves, with Islamic calligraphy. The rebelliousness of this act is added to by the fact that the words are drawn with henna—a form of adornment considered “women’s work.” In a seeming contrast, the calligraphy used is a sacred Islamic art form that was once inaccessible to women. As an artist living and educated in the West, Essaydi explores her past and family with this highly personal work. Meanwhile, her images reflect the complex female identities found in Morocco and other Muslim societies—and give women the opportunity to engage in the emerging culture of Islamic feminism.
Paperback with flaps, 11 x 8.5 inches, 32 pages, 20 four-color photographs

ISBN: 978-1-57687-256-7

Photographs by Lalla Essaydi
Essay by Amanda Carlson

Art Photo / Artist’s Book / Conceptual

According to Islamic tradition, men dominate the public sphere and women are expected to remain indoors at most times. In photographer Lalla Essaydi’s native Morocco this confinement has been further used as a punishment for those who transgress the rules of gender conduct. A practice only recently abandoned, women were at times even required to spend periods as long as a month inside otherwise uninhabited homes. In an exploration into her home country and her childhood Essaydi reverses the meaning of these spaces in Converging Territories, using them as a place where women are seen, not hidden.

Essaydi’s subjects are given a voice not only through their actions, but also through the written word. The women pose after long sessions during which Essaydi covers their clothing and few areas of exposed skin, as well as the rooms themselves, with Islamic calligraphy. The rebelliousness of this act is added to by the fact that the words are drawn with henna—a form of adornment considered “women’s work.” In a seeming contrast, the calligraphy used is a sacred Islamic art form that was once inaccessible to women. As an artist living and educated in the West, Essaydi explores her past and family with this highly personal work. Meanwhile, her images reflect the complex female identities found in Morocco and other Muslim societies—and give women the opportunity to engage in the emerging culture of Islamic feminism.

Lalla Essaydi received a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1999 and an M.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University in 2003. Essaydi’s current work consists of analog photography, but she has also worked in oil on canvas, mixed media, and video. She has exhibited at the Schneider Gallery, Chicago; the Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston; the Fries Museum, the Netherlands; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Converging Territories is to accompany a solo exhibition at the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York in January 2005. Essaydi was born in Morocco and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Amanda Carlson is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Hartford. She held the Stuart S. Golding Endowed Chair in African Art at the University of South Florida from 1992 to 2000. Carlson, a former Fulbright Scholar, has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. Her forthcoming works include the books Africa in Florida, The Field’s Edge: Agency, Body, Lens and the documentary film Cross the Water. Carlson lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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