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Author Topic: ORIENTALISM  (Read 11135 times)
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« on: May 30, 2009, 12:00:55 pm »

experience of being looked down on, being looked at from a position of greater power—which is often how these paintings appear to modern Arab buyers—is referred to in academia as “the gaze,” shorthand for the relationship between the painter and the subject of the painting. Analysis of the “gaze” has framed much of the scholarly discussion of Orientalism and has led to generalizations about western perceptions of the East during the 19th century. (Academics point out that there were no Middle Eastern artists painting scenes of western society.) Orientalism, says Kabbani, “has always rested on the peculiar premise that the West knows more about the Orient than the Orient knows about itself,” and thus the paintings embody a mixture of acquired knowledge and prejudice.

But this, too, may be changing. “I get bored with this ‘gaze’ business,” declares Raficq Abdulla. “You are different, so you will get looked at. But how you are perceived is vital.” If you are objectified, he continues, “it is indecent and demeaning, though most Orientalism is not so offensive.” Abdulla maintains that it is important for the Arab–Muslim world to transcend the notion that it is a victim of such western perceptions. He suggests that some commentators react negatively to Orientalism because they have been hurt by their colonial experience. “Palestine,” for example, he says, “remains a wound.”

Most famously, the Palestinian–American intellectual Edward Said put a torch to debate over Orientalism in 1979 with the publication of his book Orientalism. In it he argued that the West’s imaginary artistic and literary notions of a static, passive and even morally degenerate East abetted Western colonialism, no matter how benign the apparent intentions of the paintings or the literature. He held that the “Grand Tour memorabilia” aspect of Orientalist painting was politically inexcusable, if not actively racist. Still today, no discussion of Orientalism is complete without consideration of Said’s critique.

“But if it’s cultural imperialism, why are the majority of buyers Middle Eastern?” retorts MacDermott, whose gallery had its own 2008 exhibition, “The British Orientalists: Eastern Views, Western Eyes.”

At Sotheby’s, Senior Vice President Ali Can Ertug responds by choosing his images carefully. “Certain images of Turkey honor me as a Turk. They are incredibly honoring of our heritage. They are historically important documentation for us because they are scenes we have not recorded, whereas in Europe that’s taken for granted. It’s lovely to have the earliest, sometimes the only, images of things that we have lost—like street-sellers, parts of Istanbul that have burned down, landscapes that have changed so radically, like panoramic views of the Bosporus. I find the Orientalists’ genuine interest flattering and valuable. I presume that people from Damascus and Cairo would be similarly honored.”

Like his colleagues, Ertug stresses historical accuracy in the Orientalist art market, which now affects price. For example, some Orientalists painted worshipers wearing shoes in mosques—something that is universally forbidden and that indicates the artist was painting from fantasy. “Those artists who are truthful get better prices at sales,” says Ertug.

The leading Orientalist artists who pass muster, says Christie’s McMorrow, include such well-known ones as Rudolf Ernst, Ludwig Deutsch, Alberto Pasini, John Frederick Lewis, Gustav Bauernfeind and portraits by Jean-Léon Gérôme—but not his large canvases, which, as Ertug points out, “eroticize the Middle East and can be erroneous, and are therefore questioned by Middle Eastern buyers.”
« Last Edit: May 30, 2009, 12:05:22 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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