Fairfield University Art Museum Announces By Design Theater and Fashion in the Photography of Lalla Essaydi

Fairfield University Art Museum Announces By Design: Theater and Fashion in the Photography of Lalla Essaydi

The Fairfield University Art Museum announces an art exhibition featuring photographs by Lalla Essaydi. On view January 29, 2021 to May 21, 2021

Media Contact: Susan Cipollaro, scipollaro@fairfield.edu, 203-254-4000 x2726

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (December 23, 2020) — Fairfield University Art Museum is pleased to present “By Design: Theater and Fashion in the Photography of Lalla Essaydi,” a solo exhibition by artist Lalla Essaydi, including 22 works highlighting the artistic process behind the creation of the artist’s carefully staged photographs, on view January 29, 2021 to May 21, 2021.
Lalla Essaydi currently lives between New York and Morocco. Her experiences have inspired her to create politically astute work that deconstructs and reimagines stereotypes of Muslim womanhood. Her time in Morocco exposed her to the nation’s rich history of architectural design and the ceremonial occasions so important to daily life, both of which are featured in her photographs.
Guest Curator Cynthia Becker has selected 22 works spanning Essaydi’s career for inclusion in this groundbreaking exhibition, the first time a curator has emphasized fashion and staging in Essaydi’s work. Becker explains, “Essaydi might spend months creating a single garment to be worn in one of her carefully crafted tableaus. She spends hours arranging her models and, in the process, recreates the familial bonds so important to Moroccan women’s lives.” This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to appreciate Essaydi’s Moroccan-inspired fashion sense and theatrical skills.
In her Harem series from 2009, Essaydi photographed women inside a lavish Moroccan palace known as Dar el Basha. She created original Moroccan-style garments for her female models that recreated the intricate mosaic and carved wood patterns that decorated this historically important structure. Lalla Essaydi embraced fashion again in her Harem Revisited series (2012-2013), using antique Moroccan dresses borrowed from the collection of Nour and Boubker Temli. Women once wore these handwoven and embroidered garments during weddings and other ceremonial occasions. Becker notes that “Essaydi dressed her models in innovative ways and makes a fashion statement by turning the old into something new.”
With her series Bullets and Bullets Revisited (2009-2014), Essaydi crafted a richly detailed scene of highly ornate tiles, woodwork, and clothing out of bullet casings. In these glittering photographs, Essaydi comments on the violence that many associate with contemporary Middle Eastern and North African countries. Ironically, Becker says, “Essaydi transformed bullets into sparkling garments and intricate backdrops so that they are no longer recognizable as weaponry, illustrating the sense of tension and ambiguity that makes her photographs so compelling.”
Fairfield University Art Museum Executive Director Carey Weber noted, “While it is unfortunate that the museum may remain closed to the public in the early spring, we are thrilled that students, faculty and staff will be able to access these stunning works. We hope that the public will enjoy viewing the show through our 360-degree Matterport tour, and will be inspired to join us for the enriching programming that we have created to accompany the exhibition.”
The exhibition will open with an online lecture by exhibition curator Cynthia Becker on January 28, 2021.
The exhibition will be in the museum’s Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center for the Arts, and
accessible through the museum’s website as a 3-D virtual tour as well as an audio guide. Due to Covid-19 precautions, Fairfield University’s campus is closed to the outside community for the foreseeable future, and in-person viewing of the exhibition will not be available.
In conjunction with the exhibition, and with the assistance of faculty liaison Dr. Silvia Marsans-Sakly (Assistant Professor, Islamic World, Department of History), the Fairfield University Art Museum has organized a full roster of public programs which will be presented online. 
About the Artist
Lalla A. Essaydi grew up in Morocco and now lives in the United States, where she received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/TUFTS University in May 2003. Essaydi’s work is represented by Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston and Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City. Her work has been exhibited in many major international locales, including Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Texas, Buffalo, Colorado, New York, Syria, Ireland, England, France, the Netherlands, Sharjah, U.A.E., and Japan and is represented in a number of collections, including the Williams College Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Fries Museum, the Netherlands, and The Kodak Museum of Art. Her art, which often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female body, addresses the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of personal experience.  In much of her work, she returns to her Moroccan girlhood, looking back on it as an adult woman caught somewhere between past and present, and as an artist, exploring the language in which to “speak” from this uncertain space.  Her paintings often appropriate Orientalist imagery from the Western painting tradition, thereby inviting viewers to reconsider the Orientalist mythology.  She has worked in numerous media, including painting, video, film, installation, and analog photography. 
About the Curator
Cynthia Becker (BA, University of New Orleans; MA, PhD University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Associate Professor of African art history in the History of Art and Art Department at Boston University. Her book Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity (University of Texas Press, 2006) won a Choice book award in 2007. She has written numerous articles about such topics as the Sahara as a cultural and artistic zone, Amazigh identity politics, Black Indians in New Orleans, as well as counter-monuments to the Confederacy in New Orleans. Her writings on North Africa have been included in numerous museum exhibitions, including those organized by the Musée berbère du Jardin Marjorelle, the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Block Museum at Northwestern, the Newark Museum, and the University of Florida Harn Museum. She has publications in such journals as African Arts, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, Critical Interventions, the Journal of North African Studies, de arte, and Contemporary Islam. Her research has been supported by grants from Fulbright, the Council of American Overseas Centers, Fulbright-Hays, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the American Institute of Maghreb Studies.
Related Programming
Thursday, January 28, 2021, 5 p.m.
Opening Night Virtual Lecture – By Design:  Theater and Fashion in the Photography of Lalla Essaydi
Cynthia Becker, Curator of the Exhibition, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Boston University
Part of the Edwin L. Weisl, Jr. Lectureships in Art History, funded by the Robert Lehman Foundation

Wednesday, March 10, 2021, 5 p.m.
Virtual Lecture: Lalla Essaydi and the Art of Costume
Julie Learson, Costumier, Theatre Fairfield

Saturday, April 10, 2021
Virtual Family Day: Color and Pattern in the Islamic World

Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 5 p.m.
Virtual Lecture: Women, Status, and the Family Code in Morocco
Silvia Marsans-Sakly, Assistant Professor, Islamic World, Department of History

Thursday, May 20, 2021, 11 a.m.
Art in Focus: Lalla Essaydi, Harem Revisited #31, 2012, chromogenic print
Michelle DiMarzo, Curator of Education and Academic Engagement

Posted On: January 20, 2021

Volume: 52 Number: 46

Fairfield University is a modern, Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools.  In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.