In Bullets and Bullets Revisited (2009–14) the Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi invites the onlooker to reflect on the power dynamics of image production and consumption in a globalizing visual culture. As in the artist’s previous series, the photographs present Moroccan women in interior spaces and poses made familiar to an international audience by nineteenth-century European paintings. However, Essaydi trades Orientalism’s apparent realism and colorful decors for a monochromatic gold color scheme that originates from thousands of bullet casings she has meticulously sewn together to fabricate ceilings, walls, floors, furniture, jewelry, and clothes for her models. This article underscores how Essaydi’s use of a readable symbol of violence allows her to take part in and act on representational traditions that have shaped the perception of Arab Muslim women and the Middle East. Her violent aesthetics further account for curatorial and marketing practices that neutralize the subversive content of art by women originating in North Africa and the Middle East. Often shown in exhibitions featuring similar images and associating women with the veil, weapons, and scenes of destruction, Essaydi’s photographs are uncritically linked to events and situations as varied as the Arab uprisings, violence in the Palestinian territories, and the wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Instead of illuminating complex sociopolitical issues and reshaping dominant discourses, they become part of a homogenizing visual archive that sustains ways of seeing and producing the Middle East—as inherently violent and culturally backward—that are rooted in imperial imaginaries and political ideologies.

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