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Lalla Essaydi and Harems

This past week Lalla A. Essaydi, a Moroccan artist, came to campus to present her photographs showing images of women in harems, a separate part of the household reserved for the women of the house, wives, concubines and/or female servants, in the context of the Arab world. Typically, men define public spaces, while women are confined to private ones, such as the home, but Essaydi uses her photos, placing women in “the place they belong”, while disrupting the tradition of keeping them private. She dispels stereotypes and preconceived notions about harems by using the female body, calligraphy as a veil and statement (since calligraphy is usually inaccessible to women) through henna (a female art), and the identity of Arab females to portray perspective of personal experience. Harem comes from the Arabic word “Haram”, meaning forbidden, and so the idea of harems traditionally hold negative weight. However, Essaydi provides unique perspective on the lives of those living in harems. In an interview Essaydi says, “In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses—as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes.” Her photos show the diversity and complexity of Arab female identity and femininity while showing the progress women are making to this day. Essaydi’s work can be viewed at the Trout Gallery, till May 12, so if interested please go and check it out this unique take on Arab women and harems.

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