M-eating-Red Table, 2013, Maïmouna Guerresi
In 1991, photographer Maïmouna Guerresi traveled to Senegal, and was so taken by the country’s spiritual traditions that she converted to Islam from her native Roman Catholicism. Yet, within this experience lies a deeper truth, as Guerresi embraced the Sufi philosophy that maintains that all the world’s religions originate from a single divine source.
This understanding of Oneness allows Guerresi to embrace the rich iconographic traditions of Western faith. Blending elements of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism together, Guerresi uses her photographs as holistic source of visual meditation. With her faith placed squarely in the human form. Guerresi reminds us that our body is the temple that temporarily houses the eternal soul, celebrating the divine essence that resides within us all.
Inner Constellations (Glitterati Incorporated), Guerresi’s first book, is organized into three sections: Giants, Signs, and Cosmos. The Giants are among Guerresi’s best known work, beautifully produced portraits that convey a profound and mystical experience. There is a grandeur to the Giants that is naturally regal, evoking a sense of exalted power and presence. Guerresi describes the Giants as guides for humans to navigate life. They are guardians and holy warriors who channel the divine. Though you may be scared, you must follow them, and you must stay open to the beauty that they provide. In this way Guerresi’s Giants are symbols of the Sublime.
The book continues to the section called Signs, the most intimate series in the book, which features photographs of Guerresi’s daughters. As Andi Potamkin writes in the book’s foreword, “She has taught them to be open and accepting, with no judgment. She encourages them to be curious. Maïmouna is a Muslim feminist and a believer in ancient Islamic mysticism. She tells me the story of Mohammed’s first wife, the first believer. She explains that women were powerful in ancient mystic religions.”
It is this power, this sense of the feminine, that Guerresi restores to her exploration of the spiritual energy of art. Her vision is not one that is meek or retiring, but rather an energy so intense that it brings forth life. Her figures are draped in beautiful garments that Guerresi helps to create by hand in collaboration with her subjects. We see the artistry in the craft of the robes and of the minaret-hats, as well as in the delicate painting that adorns the subjects hands and faces, reminding us that the divine is often expressed by the relationship between hand and eye, whether this is in costuming, styling, or taking the photographs.
The cumulative effect of Guerresi’s photographs is a blurring of the boundaries between what the real and the fantastical. In her work we perceive a sense of being that extends beyond the limitations of the physical form, a place we visit when we dream and assume a new way of perceiving the Oneness of the world. Inner Constellations charts the path we all share, an internal landscape, a space that exists between the sacred and the profane, the passage between light and dark, between life and death. It is the mystery we carry within us every day we are on this earth.
Inner Constellations: Photographs by Maïmouna Guerresi, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.