Reclining Odalisque takes its subject matter and title from nineteenth-century European Orientalist paintings, which portrayed a fantasized Western notion of a harem slave (or odalisque), shown nude or partially clad and presented for the male gaze. The scale of this photograph lends it some of the same presence and power as many of the celebrated paintings of this theme, but here the recumbent figure is covered in and surrounded by words, provoking in a different manner, perhaps challenging viewers to see her for who she really is.
Lalla Essaydi’s art frequently depicts the reclining female form in order to address issues of identity from her own unique perspective as an artist, a woman, an Arab, a Muslim, and a Moroccan. As such, she often inscribes her images in henna (as in this work), usually with her own words. Born and raised in Morocco, Essaydi received her formal training in France and the United States, where she now resides. Her work is well known from numerous international exhibitions and is represented in major museum collections in North America and Europe.