La Grande Odalisque by Lalla Essaydi at VMFA

color photo

color photo

The plaque at the museum says the photographer is Moroccan born in 1956. This is from the series Les Femmes du Maroc. It explores the issue of veiling and revealing Islamic women. The calligraphy on her skin, robes and surroundings is sacred text painted in henna.

I love henna designs and wish I could use it. Shelby and I tried it but I messed mine up and it looked really bad on my skin! It looked good on Shelby though.

Looking at this photo again I had questions that aren’t answered on the plaque. The definition of “odalisque” in western art is “love slave”. I was surprised by this woman’s dirty feet. I never saw an odalisque with dirty feet before. It made me wonder if the model is a slave. I remember hearing once that people in some cultures are insulted when they see the soles of the feet or shoes. I wondered if Muslims would like this photo or not like it.

I think it tells a story that is lost to me in translation. I wish I knew the meaning of the script in henna. I hope if this speaks to any of our readers someone will tell me the meaning and if they like it or hate it and why.

This Wikipedia link has a lot of info on the subject


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