Lalla Essaydi is a painter and photographer whose work hangs in galleries all over the country, as well as in England, Japan and Syria and a number of other countries around the world. Born in Morocco, she’s lived here in the U.S. for the past 18 years. She recently visited Chattanooga to talk about her work. One of her photographs is part of the permanent collection at the Hunter Museum of American Art here in Chattanooga. While she was here, Essaydi sat down to talk about her work.
This is the painting satirized by Lalla Essaydi as La Grande Odalisque. Ingres was one of a number of principally French painters drawn to North Africa by the promise of women of "easy virtue." This fantasy was reproduced in innumerable paintings in the 19th century. This practice of fetishizing Islamic women has been termed orientalism. For Ms. Essaydi it is akin to colonialism and an affront to the dignity of all Islamic women. She seeks to draw attention to and to redress this damaging misconception in her photographs.