Architecture plays a large part in the works of Orientalist paintings, as well as in Lalla Essaydi’s photographs. The series Harem, and Harem Revisited present women in lavish architectural spaces, with mosaic tiles covering the walls in vibrant colors. Their dress is that of a similar color scheme and pattern, blurring the lines between natural form and architecture. This blending is done throughout Essaydi’s work. The earlier series Converging Territories and Les Femme du Maroc create an environment of text and cloth. Unlike the lush environment of “couches and settings” in Orientalist paintings, Essaydi’s environments are abstracted and do not allow the viewer to feel as though they can enter the space.
In many Orientalist paintings, nude and semi-nude women are depicted lying on floors in low beds, seated in window seats, or propped in a calm manor, lounging about leisurely. Essaydi’s figures are not nude, they are fully dressed, some hard at work actively practicing the art of calligraphy. Essaydi’s works are “process oriented” meaning that there is more to the photograph than the initial glance, the viewer must complete their dialogue.