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5 Fast Facts: Lalla Essaydi

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
A woman lying on her back gazes confidently out at viewer adorned and surrounded by polished bullet casings

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Lalla Essaydi (b. 1965) and her series Bullets and Bullets Revisited (2009–2014). Bullets Revisited #3 (2012) is part of NMWA’s collection.  

1. Artful Response 

Moroccan-born Essaydi watched the Arab Spring unfold from the United States. Moved to create, she embarked on a series of photographs. “Bullets is about that violence projected on women, specifically physical violence during gatherings in the squares…I was not there…The only thing I could do is put it in my work and show the world what women were subjected to,” the artist said.   

Three photographs join to show a woman lying on a bed on her back. Turning her head to look at the viewer, she wears airy light clothing and a heavy, wide gold belt and her long hair falls to the floor. A metallic surface covers everything - the walls, furniture and the woman.
Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

2. Setting the Scene 

To create the silver-and-gold-encrusted elements in works such as Bullets Revisited #3, Essaydi and her assistants gather buckets of assorted bullet casings from shooting ranges in the United States. Then, they sort the .22 caliber shells; use specialized machines to cut, bore, and polish them; and weave them together with wire.  

3. Model Behavior  

At the center of the glittering scene in Bullets Revisited #3 is a model whose skin and dress are covered in henna, which Essaydi applies using a syringe. The artist often works with family acquaintances and they discuss, agree on, and rehearse all aspects of the image before the shoot. The multi-hour process—eased by music and storytelling—requires patience and stillness from Essaydi’s collaborators.  

4. Blurred Lines 

Essaydi’s script combines the traditionally male art of calligraphy—which she taught herself—and the traditionally female art of henna painting. As she writes, Essaydi draws from her model’s experiences as well as her own, though the intentionally illegible final product keeps the details private.  

5. Bigger Picture 

Essaydi admires 19th-century Orientalist paintings for their beauty —but not their false narratives. To challenge these representations, she identified three main themes, “the harem, the veil, and the odalisque,” and adopted them throughout her work. Bullets Revisited #3 evokes the odalisque—a seductive female nude—but subverts the voyeuristic tradition with the segmented body and returned gaze. 

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