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Lalla Essaydi: 'Revisions'

WI Contributing Writer | 5/29/2012, 10:21 p.m.

"The calligraphy can't be read," Essaydi said. "The text becomes a work in itself, its own language. This is my own take on calligraphy. The visual part of the text becomes a visual language of its own."

The translation of the text relates to Essaydi's childhood memories of her home in Marrakesh, Morocco and is shaped by her own particular history. The women she employs as models have much in common with her - either through their identity as Moroccan Arab women, or as actual relatives of the artist.

"The text becomes the voices of the women," Essaydi adds. "The fabric, gauze, is transparent, but is also the fabric used in hospitals."

"Lalla Essaydi: Revisions" is an aesthetic delight, taking into account the process required to produce the photographs and the calligraphic embellishments. Yet it also requires deeper examination in relation to the women it depicts, whether they are in the stark white background of the text-covered fabric, or in decorative clothing that blends into specific settings. In her "Harem" series, photographed in Morocco's renowned and ornately decorated Dar el Basha Palace, the artist intentionally allows the models to disappear into the lush background, where once again they are seen, but silent.

Whether they stare directly at the viewer from behind the veil, or gaze unaffectedly within their own interiors, the women pictured in Essaydi's work seek to revise the global understanding of the reality of Arab women's lives and the spaces that they occupy, both literally and theoretically.

"This is the most important exhibition I have had," Essaydi said. "I haven't been seen as an African artist, so to see my work in an African museum is very important to me. To give people the ideas of all the media I work with is very important. And it is wonderful to see all the work together."

The National Museum of African Art is located at 10th and Independence Avenue, NW on the National Mall. The museum is open daily [except Christmas Day] from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.