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LALLA ESSAYDI An Interview Ray Waterhouse August 2008 I first came across the work of Lalla Essaydi two years ago, and like many others I was immediately entranced. Lalla's international success over the last few years is no surprise. Of course a number of different aspects appealed to me: the combination of the beautiful mix of subtle tones, the carefully composed compositions with references to nineteenth-century Orientalist paintings, and the patterns produced by the extraordinary calligraphy created by just henna. But these are not just pretty photographs. It was the hidden meanings (hidden for a Western male, at least) behind the beautiful fagades that, for me, took these works to another, altogether more important level. It was this interest that led me to offer Lalla a place in a group show of Middle Eastern and Arab art we were planning for this autumn. I met Lalla for the first time in New York this March to discuss the show, and it was while she was showing me her whole body of work, and explaining many of the complex meanings behind her works, that I decided to change my offer and propose a solo show. At the time of writing, this exhibition, her first solo show in the UK, has just opened to extraordinary interest. It has been reviewed with great acclaim in numerous British and overseas broadsheets, and I hope will establish her name in Western Europe. We are taking a large number of her pieces to an art fair in Abu Dhabi later this year. I will leave the explanation of Lalla's work to the artist herself. Reproduced here is the text of an e-mail interview I conducted with her during the summer, and I trust that her thoughtful and beautifully expressed answers, together with the reproductions of her work, lead you to an appreciation of Lalla Essaydi's extraordinary talents. Ray Waterhouse: You come from a painting background —how important and influential is that training for how you make your photographs? Lalla Essaydi: My background in painting plays a very important role in my photographic work. For one thing, applying henna is really a painting process. And because the Arab tradition of calligraphy, which has of course an expressive element, does not involve the kind of separation between image and text you find in the West, the calligraphic element in my work, especially as it is applied in henna, is in my mind closely related to painting. Also, my experience with painting influences the composition of my photographs and my understanding of space in each medium. In painting, every space is a constructed space, every element is in some sense intentional. So when I began to incorporate Orientalist themes into my photographs —and here again, painting played a major role, because it was as a painter that I began my investigations into Orientalism —I created somewhat abstract settings for the work, settings that are deliberately reminiscent of Orientalist painting. RW: Where were the photographs from your two series Converging Territories and Femmes du Maroc shot and what is the significance of the setting? LE: The Converging Territories series is set in Morocco in a large house, no longer occupied, that belongs to my family. Until fairly recently, I returned there for my photographic work. I wanted to set my work in the physical space where, in the house of my childhood, a young woman was sent when she disobeyed, stepped outside the permissible behavioral space, as defined by my culture . Here, accompanied only by servants, she would spend a month, spoken to by no one, a month of silence. So this literal space is also a psychological space, a space marked by memory, and an embodiment as well of cultur144 * Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art Converging Territories #24abcd. Chromogenic print mounted on aluminium, four panels, edition of 15, each panel 76 x 102 cm Courtesy of the artist and Waterhouse & Dodd. al boundaries, a cultural space. Furthermore, it is important to realize that architectural and cultural space are profoundly interconnected in the Arab world, private space being traditionally the domain of women, public spaces of men. But there is even yet another kind of...


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