Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography

Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography

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Until now, Orientalist art—exemplified by paintings of harems, slave markets, or bazaars—has predominantly been understood to reflect Western interpretations and to perpetuate reductive, often demeaning stereotypes of the exotic East. Orientalism's Interlocutors contests the idea that Orientalist art simply expresses the politics of Western domination and argues instead that it was often produced through cross-cultural interactions. Focusing on paintings and other representations of North African and Ottoman cultures, by both local artists and westerners, the contributors contend that the stylistic similarities between indigenous and Western Orientalist art mask profound interpretive differences, which, on examination, can reveal a visual language of resistance to colonization. The essays also demonstrate how marginalized voices and viewpoints—especially women's—within Western Orientalism decentered and destabilized colonial authority.

Looking at the political significance of cross-cultural encounters refracted through the visual languages of Orientalism, the contributors engage with pressing recent debates about indigenous agency, postcolonial identity, and gendered subjectivities. The very range of artists, styles, and forms discussed in this collection broadens contemporary understandings of Orientalist art. Among the artists considered are the Algerian painters Azouaou Mammeri and Mohammed Racim; Turkish painter Osman Hamdi; British landscape painter Barbara Bodichon; and the French painter Henri Regnault. From the liminal "Third Space" created by mosques in postcolonial Britain to the ways nineteenth-century harem women negotiated their portraits by British artists, the essays in this collection force a rethinking of the Orientalist canon.

This innovative volume will appeal to those interested in art history, theories of gender, and postcolonial studies.

Contributors. Jill Beaulieu, Roger Benjamin, Zeynep Çelik, Deborah Cherry, Hollis Clayson, Mark Crinson, Mary Roberts

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822383857
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 12/06/2002
Series: Objects/Histories
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 244
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Jill Beaulieu is an independent art historian and past President of the Art Association of Australia.

Mary Roberts is the John Schaeffer Lecturer in British Art at the University of Sydney. They are coeditors (with Toni Ross) of Refracting Vision: Essays on the Writings of Michael Fried.

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Duke University Press

Copyright © 2002 Duke University Press
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ISBN: 0822328747


Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts

Zeïneb ... stamped her foot and said ... that the portrait must be done according to her wishes, or-not at all. I could not risk the "not at all."

-Mary Adelaide Walker, 1886

To introduce new viewing positions on the map by listening to historically repressed voices complicates any neat framing of the canon, engages it in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable dialogue and resituates it.

-Zeynep Çelik, 1996

Rethinking Interlocution

Zeïneb's interdiction that her portrait be painted "according to her wishes" concludes a lengthy dispute between this Ottoman patron and the English amateur painter Mary Adelaide Walker inside Zeïneb's summer palace on the Bosphorus in Constantinople. The forthright intervention of this Ottoman harem woman ensures the production of a harem portrait that no Westerner will be allowed to see and that, with its hybrid mix of Eastern and Western fashion and conventions of picture making, bears little resemblance to harem paintings in the Western Orientalist tradition. Walker protests her sitter's requests, revealing her own investment in notions of the exotic harem, but her objections are unequivocally dismissed.

A critique of the Western harem stereotype is implicitin this dialogue because the artist's Western preconceptions are inappropriate in the creation of Zeïneb's portrait. Zeïneb assumes the prerogatives of a woman of her elevated social standing in Ottoman society by unequivocally stating her conditions for its production: the English painter is providing a service in her household. Nonetheless, this Ottoman princess's intransigence comes as a surprise to a reader familiar with Western fictions of the compliant odalisque. That it should surprise us reveals the extent to which Western notions of the odalisque have saturated our understanding of this period, even in those postcolonial accounts critical of this Western mythology. Taking account of this harem dialogue ensures that the universalizing hold of this Western cultural preoccupation is diminished; it emerges as a viewpoint that was contested, not only from a postcolonial vantage point, but also at its historical moment of inception. As such, this interchange exemplifies the historically repressed voices that Zeynep Çelik argues should be introduced into the study of Orientalist visual culture to unsettle our assumptions and to resituate the canon. How are we to make sense of such counternarratives and alternative images made in dialogue with Western cultures at the height of European territorial imperialism? What place should they hold in a history of Orientalist visual culture? How would the inclusion of historically repressed voices cause us to reshape the terms of analysis of Orientalism? Such questions motivate this publication.

In this anthology authors address these issues by examining forms of cross-cultural exchange that have been largely overlooked in the study of Orientalist visual culture. In the first half of this book authors examine indigenous and diasporic visual cultures that adapted European conventions of visual representation. This is accompanied in the second half by a reconsideration of marginalized voices and subjectivities within Western Orientalism, in particular the work of women Orientalists, but also forms of masculine subjectivity articulated via Orientalist imagery that run counter to the more familiar heterosexual norms. Through a consideration of the conflicting determinants of gender and race, authors reveal the instability of colonial authority.

Our emphasis on divergent forms of cross-cultural dialogue is indebted to a shift in emphasis in recent years in the interdisciplinary field of postcolonial studies. This is a shift from a focus on Western discursive constructions of the "Orient" as hegemonic to an engagement with Orientalism as heterogeneous and contested. In her analysis of literary Orientalism, Lisa Lowe has been one of the most cogent advocates for this reframing of Orientalism. She encapsulates its significance: "By foregrounding heterogeneity I do not mean to obscure the fundamental difference of power between colonizers and colonizeds. Rather, I wish to open spaces that permit the articulation of other differences-themselves incongruous and nonequivalent-not only of nation and race but also of gender, class, region and sexual preference." As a result of the dual focus in our book on indigenous responses and questions of gender, essays in this volume facilitate this "articulation of other differences" within the sphere of visual culture. As a consequence, the univocality of the West is fractured into a plurality of voices with divergent and conflicting allegiances, and "Orientals" are recognized as participants in the production of counternarratives or resistant images, rather than solely as mute objects of representation. Essays in this volume register this diverse and contested history of cultural representation and at times the profound incommensurability of viewpoints. Thus, in this book interlocution operates through its varied semantic resonances of dialogue, response, and interruption.

This emphasis on Orientalism as a disparate and disputed set of discursive constructions constitutes a significant change in how Orientalism is understood, and although its impact has already begun to be felt in art history, its effects are still incompletely registered. Since its initial transposition into the discipline through Linda Nochlin's groundbreaking essay "The Imaginary Orient," the early Saidean model has been the most influential paradigm for analysis. Rejecting an approach that secured aesthetics as a domain that is autonomous from colonial politics, Nochlin critically analyzed the visual languages of Orientalist painting and their relationship to the promulgation of colonial stereotypes. In doing so, she established many of the key terms by which Orientalist art continues to be analyzed. Her essay highlighted the processes of exclusion and concealment that naturalized and secured the privilege of the Western subject to observe, judge, and fantasize about Islamic cultures. Nochlin also examined the intersection of gender politics and Orientalism through processes of projection, identification, and distancing in colonial fantasy.

In recent years a number of art historians and curators have nuanced, recast, or called into question the exclusivity of this emphasis on the politics of Western domination. In her important article of 1996, "Colonialism, Orientalism and the Canon," Çelik heralded the potential impact of this significant new direction for the study of visual culture: "The voice of certain alterities, kept silent by the valorized culture, begins to enter the dialogue, thereby complicating the meanings and contextual fabrics of the art objects and disrupting inherited historiographic legacies." A number of recent art historical publications have taken up the challenge Çelik so clearly articulated. And they share a sense that a reexamination of marginal voices within Western Orientalism must be accompanied by inclusion of the responses of indigenous painters and collectors. For instance, Julie Codell and Dianne Sachko Macleod's anthology redefines relations between art and empire by examining the Easternization of Britain through a dual focus on interventions by colonized people and the transformation of British aesthetic concepts through the colonial experience. Two major exhibitions (the first in Sydney in 1997, the second in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 2000) contributed to the critical reassessment of Orientalism by examining its regional manifestations.

An examination of Orientalism in Australia and America complicates any neat binary division between East and West by addressing the specific currency of ideas about the "Orient" in regional Western cultures. In the nineteenth century America had very little direct political engagement with the East; as a consequence, "Getting Oriented" was a process of positioning oneself in relation to European cultural traditions as much as defining oneself in relation to the East as exotic other. European Orientalism was both studiously emulated by American artists and modified in light of local cultural considerations. The Sydney exhibition examined the ambivalent position of Orientalism in nineteenth-century Australia, where artists embraced a European ideology of dominance and yet, in their distinctive position as colonials within the British Empire, were also seen as "'not quite' possessing mastery."

As well as investigating the heterogeneity of Western Orientalism through its regional manifestations, the Sydney exhibition addressed indigenous painting and collecting practices. Indigenous collecting was at the center of the exhibition because its nineteenth-century section was based on the Najd collection by a distinguished Saudi businessman. In his essay for the catalogue, Roger Benjamin made questions of indigenous collecting pivotal to the conceptual focus of the exhibition by exploring the practice of collecting as an expression of cultural identity. Examining both the contemporary and historical dimensions of this issue, Benjamin analyzed the collecting priorities of Khalil Bey in Second Empire Paris and Mahmoud Khalil in Cairo after the First World War, among others. He proposed that alternative indigenous self-images were and are articulated through these collections. Contemplating such a revisionary history of collecting Orientalism introduces new criteria for interpreting this art and its relationship to identity formation-issues that Benjamin explores further in his study of Maghrehin painters in this volume.

These art historians and curators have prized open the field, not just adding to the canon by examining Orientalism at the margins, but calling into question entrenched assumptions about the parameters and limits of Orientalist visual culture. And yet the impact of this shift in emphasis still remains to be extensively registered in art history and visual studies and its impact on central terms in the debate has not been sufficiently theorized. Through a rigorous engagement with the central terms in which Orientalism has been understood, authors in this volume take up this challenge to rethink Orientalism and its interlocutors within the sphere of visual culture. This results in a profound resituating of the Western canon and a rethinking of the central terms of analysis.

By addressing the hybrid aesthetics of indigenous and diasporic cultural responses to Western Orientalism, authors in the first half of this book revise and nuance our understanding of terms while also deploying new ones. This engagement entails the reassessment of the visual modalities of Orientalism and the politics of interpretation. For instance, l'effet de réel, which, as Nochlin alerted us, operated in academic Orientalism as a powerful mode of naturalizing a Western viewpoint by dissimulating its processes of bringing into being, takes on a new significance when used by Islamic artists, as Çelik and Benjamin argue, as a corrective to Western misconceptions of their cultures. This approach asserts the multivalence of visual languages and their susceptibility to reappropriation.

In these essays there is also a recasting of Orientalism's "imaginative geography." As Said has argued, arbitrary geographic distinctions between familiar and exotic space is integral to Orientalist discourse, and this "poetics of space" mirrors the processes of identity formation that establish distinctions between Europe and its "others." In the realm of art this imaginative geography was played out through distinctions between the Orient, inscribed as a site for the European artist-traveler to collect the raw materials, and Europe as the site of reception for an exotic vision presented to gallery audiences. In this way European centers are privileged as interpretive sites. Essays in this volume disturb such neat divisions of Orientalism's "imaginative geography" by emphasizing the ways different indigenous interventions reconfigure how the discursive terrain is understood. Authors in this volume shift the geographic focus to encompass Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey as sites for reception for Orientalist painting. Different audiences for visual cultures emerge when indigenous cultural histories are acknowledged. For instance, Roger Benjamin's essay addresses the distinct audiences for Mohammed Racim's art in Paris and Algiers.

The semantic resonances of interlocution as inter-locus, between localities, come into play as various authors emphasize the work of non-European artists, architects, and photographers trafficking between European and non-European contexts and addressing local indigenous concerns or redressing Orientalist stereotypes in metropolitan Western centers. For instance, Çelik analyzes the photograph albums Sultan Abdülhamid II sent from Constantinople to the United States in 1893 to refute Western misconceptions of the Ottoman Empire. Mark Crinson's essay also examines a trafficking between cultures and a reassessment of the Western centers, this time in the contemporary context of postcolonial Britain, where the diaspora mosque is interpreted as a challenge to Britain's "imaginary nation-space." For Crinson, one of the effects of the diaspora mosque is to forge a transnational form that challenges the host culture. Through these essays, indigenous and diasporic visual cultures emerge as actively engaged in a spatial politics of reappropriation, negotiation, and resistance.

The papers in the second half of this volume, through a focus on the issue of gender, reveal the internal inconsistencies within Western Orientalism. Authors examine the multifarious ways discourses of sexuality traverse and intersect discourses of race. Here the formation of Orientalist visual culture between locations is addressed in relation to the formation of gendered subjectivities.


Excerpted from ORIENTALISM'S INTERLOCUTORS Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Orientalism's Interlocutors / Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts

Speaking Back to Orientalist Discourse / Zeynep Celik

Colonial Tutelage to Nationalist Affirmation: Mammeri and Racim, Painters of the Maghred / Roger Benjamin

The Mosque and the Metropolis / Mark Crimson

Earth into the World, Land into Landscape: The “Worlding” of Algeria in Nineteenth-Century British Feminism / Deborah Cherry

Henri Regnault's Wartime Orientalism / Hollis Clayson

Contested Terrains: Women Orientalists and the Colonial Harem / Mary Roberts




What People are Saying About This

John MacKenzie

This collection of essays makes a significant contribution to what is becoming a truly major debate. It advances the latest thinking about the processes of cultural interaction between East and West by viewing such 'interlocutions' as being much more of a dialogue through which indigenous identities can be formed and asserted.
— John MacKenzie, author of The Victorian Vision: Inventing New Britain

Julie Codell

Focusing largely on the conjunction of orientalism and pictorial representation, a still underexamined area, Orientalism's Interlocutors contributes new understanding to concepts of orientalism and colonial discourses.
— Julie Codell, coeditor of Orientalism Transposed: The Impact of the Colonies on British Culture

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