Gender, Power & Tradition: Lalla Essaydi Lecture Response

Lalla Essaydi in her lecture Gender, Power & Tradition, explained her conflict between her appreciation of western art influence and parallel disdain for its representation of Arab women. More importantly her lecture focused on the effects of western gaze on Moroccan culture. Some of the common themes discussed in her work is the henna writing on the models, the clothing and the walls as well as space and thresholds. I found it interested that she explained the sexuality of Arab women as being associated with spaces. Such that historically, women usually occupied the private space and men the public space, thus, when a men entered a space it became public. It is western imagery that uses this explanation to demonize Arab men as the perpetrators of gender violence. However, in answer to this Essaydi indicated that it was European influence and imagination of what Arab women are like that dissolved the barrier between these spaces. She stressed that difference of interpretation through the purposing of the sari or shawl. Western view dubs the shawl as a mode of oppression but rather the shawl ensures a woman’s private space wherever she goes. With this example Essaydi demonstrates how subjective victimizing is when done by an outside culture. One of the main topics of her lecture was about orientalism as an expression of imposed male sexual fantasy. Her allusion to Freud’s Madonna-whore complex was most innovative; that European women, the future wives and bearer of heirs must be pure, hence European men seek their fantasy in their illusion of erotic foreign women.

My favorite part was in her closing where she said that Beauty in art is a luring mechanism, especially for art that seeks to make a statement. The beauty beckons them closer and it is only when they have stopped to take in the art can dialogue of the issues begin.

-Nicolette Trevenen



Sarah added: see this cartoon that pits gazes in terms of cultural relativism….and addresses Essaydi’s comments about western assumptions concerning Arab Women.

cultural relativism cartoon


One thought on “Gender, Power & Tradition: Lalla Essaydi Lecture Response

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful response on Essaydi’s talk. See the cartoon I added that shows the cultural relativism at work in the oppositional gaze’s between East and West regarding women’s dress and social positioning:)

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