Lalla Essaydi


The photographs in the book all show women, either a single woman or a group of women; all but a few are veiled, and their clothing is layered, encumbering, both hiding and revealing, and unmistakably if somewhat unsettlingly beautiful. They and their ground (floor, cushions or other furnishings, drapery, and backdrop) are all of a piece, covered entirely by calligraphy, an art form that in Islamic countries has, until recently, been the province of men who transcribe sacred literature. The inscription in my photographs, is in henna. Henna has long been used to “decorate” women’s hands and feet, though it has many other uses, including medicinal ones; traditionally, henna painting has been deemed a woman’s art. Thus, to use henna in calligraphy is to defy the status quo, to enter space that is “owned” by men, to upset the unbalanced scale that puts men on one side, women on another. Furthermore, the text in the photographs is not from the Qur’an; nor is it sacred to anyone but the writer. It’s culled from my own journals and it speaks about memory, communication, cultural identity, self-identity, and personal freedom.

368 pages | ISBN : 9782867702099