It is important to appreciate at what point Essaydi realized that not all American or Western viewers understood the full context and meaning of Orientalist paintings. In her recent interview for this exhibition, the artist describes an experience she had in graduate school in Boston:

First, I fell in love with the aesthetic beauty of Orientalist paintings while I was in Paris many years ago.  Then I started reading about Orientalism.  I loved the way these paintings are painted; they are exquisite.  But I then started seeing them as a portrait of a culture.  At that time in my life, I started seeing them as a portrayal of fantasy and I, as part of one of the cultures being portrayed, knew that the images were not representative.  They were portrayals of fantasy, and I thought everyone knew that.  It was an interaction that took place while working toward my MA at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston that helped me bring to light the fallacy of these beliefs and set the trajectory of my career.  I had painted a very large painting of the work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, and a curator approached me, curious about the work.  She wanted to know why I was incorporating Gérôme.  I was making the painting so large; the original was small by comparison.  I started to explain that Gérôme’s painting was a fantasy and that I was trying to show that by putting the images in a different setting.  I was hoping to make people realize that if you removed the characteristics of these paintings that make them so beautiful, that beauty that allows you to accept these women being sold in the streets and still look at them as beautiful things.  As the discussion with the curator progressed, I expressed my belief that it was wrong to willfully misrepresent a culture in this way and depict fantasy as reality.  The curator replied that she had no idea that it was a fantasy.  She said, “I thought it was real.”[1]



[1] Maureen G. Shanahan,, “A Conversation with Lalla Essaydi,” ed. Sarah T. Brooks, The Photography of Lalla Essaydi. Critiquing and Contextualizing Orientalism (Broadway, VA: Branner Printing) 2014, 6-22.