Essaydi’s Les Femmes du Marco #1 exemplifies the historical play and interrogative approach she takes towards Orientalism. This photography strongly resembles Eugéne Delacroix’s Algerian Women in Their Apartment from 1834 with a similar arrangement of female figures within a quasi-tent structure. Yet, Essaydi’s figures are not overly voluptuous or sexually evocative because they have neither a bored stare towards the viewer nor a revealing amount of cleavage. Furthermore, Essaydi’s figures seems to actually look away from the viewer as in the case of the woman rolled away from the lens and the woman holding back the curtain; Delacroix has his reclining figure and curtain holder looking towards the viewer. Delacroix’s setting is very highly engaging and pleasing to the viewer’s gaze with exotic and detailed décor, a colorful palette, and infinite pillows. The setting parlays to the notion of harem with its female gatherings. However, Essaydi’s figures remain veiled with their hair and ears covered compared to the fully exposed heads of Delacroix. Thus, Essaydi challenges the aesthetics and sexual pleasures that Orientalism attempts to evokes evoke through her set construction, stone cold women, and asexual postures outside of a harem like setting.
Another of Essaydi’s references to Orientalist paintings comes through in Les Femmes du Maroc: La Grande Odalisque as it references the infamous painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque. Ingres’s painting is highly titillating with its full nude figure, sensual fabrics, and bored yet sensual gaze towards the viewer. Essaydi’s figure is considerably more modest without any side boob viewers or sensual fabric. Even the exposed flesh is covered by mystic Arabic calligraphy. Interestingly, both figures do retain a turban like piece over their hair. Also, Essaydi’s figure has very dirty feet compared to Ingres, as if she was just resting after a day of work and not ready for a playful night in the silk and velvet sheets. This comparison highlights the interrogative approach Essaydi uses in her practice as she appropriates figures, settings, and titles yet inverts the sensual and exotic themes as a challenge towards Orientalists sexual exploitation of exotically construction of the Muslim/Arab female.