Lalla A. Essaydi | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Lalla A. Essaydi

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The woman in Converging Territories #4, one of Lalla A. Essaydi's ten photographs at Schneider, stands in a long, white hijab that covers all but her face. Arabic text appears on the robe and the wall behind her, and at first I thought the subject might be the role of women in traditional Islam, the writing verses from the Koran. Then I noticed her bare foot peeking out beneath the robe. This woman is part of a feminist support group that Essaydi, who now lives in Boston, formed in her native Marrakech, and the same text is used in photos of other women in the group. It's a 400-word meditation the artist wrote on the paradoxes of identity and knowledge and freedom. ("The more you read, the more I recollect, the more I understand that expectancy is a sharp blade tearing the pages and disrobing the soul.") Words and images have multiple layers of meaning: there were, for instance, no calligraphy schools for women in Morocco until recently and none in Saudi Arabia when Essaydi lived there, and the texts are written in henna, which is used to decorate a woman's body at key moments in her life. But the photos also speak through their composition. In Converging Territories #9 a woman sits with her robe spread out in a circle around her, making her the focus of attention, and the nudes covered with writing in Converging Territories #16 form a striking contrast to the cloths covered with text behind them--an attempt to both write women into the culture and acknowledge that culture can be a trap. Schneider, 230 W. Superior, through April 24. Hours are 10:30 to 5 Tuesday through Friday and 11 to 5 Saturday; 312-988-4033.

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