Stacey E. Schultz
The University of Texas at El Paso
Odalisque Unbound: Contemporary Photographic Responses
The legacy of European salon models of the reclining nude have continued to affect the framing and positioning of women, both as models and artists. Historically, and more specifically within the context of the 19th century, this process has become increasingly complex due to the legacy of colonialism. This is especially the case for women artists in the United States who are African American and/or immigrants from the Caribbean (Jamaica) or North Africa (Morocco), despite the subsequent formation of independent, postcolonial nations. The following essay examines the work of three performative photographers: Lalla Essaydi, Lorna Simpson, and Renée Cox. These women present contemporary foils of Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’ Grande Odalisque of 1814, using their own bodies or the bodies of female models. The gaze of the model, position of the female form, compartmentalization of the body, use of text, and accessories presented also serve to re-contextualize and reframe the Ingres original. As a result, the images discussed herein call into question and actively interrogate the persistent residue of Orientalism, even in the 21st century. Through literal and metaphorical references to fine art (French Romanticism, Minimalism, and Conceptual art), popular culture (hip-hop music), and language (English and Arabic), Essaydi, Simpson, and Cox actively resist mainstream cultural biases surrounding the non-white female form.