The young girl growing up in a harem in Morocco is sitting alone in an abandoned house surrounded by olive trees. For one month, the girl will speak to no one and be spoken to by no one. This is her punishment for “stepping outside the permissible space” and rebelling against rules that give her brothers more freedom.

Confined to this lovely but deteriorating house, attended only by servants, a young Lalla Essaydi begins to think about the private spaces that women in the Arab world must inhabit. It is this place of punishment to which Essaydi will return decades later to understand the artist she has become. Her work, she says, will become haunted by spaces she inhabited as a child.

Essaydi, who has risen to international fame for her stunning portraits of women in Islamic cultures, questions the barriers imposed on Arab women and challenges stereotypical Western depictions of women who live in harems.

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