Just a note on Orientalism

Posted: July 8, 2012 by jerkmag in VAULT -- archives
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“One is not a traveler who does not read in advance of the unfruitful sort of men and the things that he will find there. During the long hours of calm and boredom we have on the sea, I have read one already old account, about Morocco and I found thereupon a very fixed and formal world that the view of the first street of Tangiers will make vanish completely” Eugene Delacroix

Obvious sexual connotations have been paired with Eugene Delacroix’s image above, but from the imagination of the artist? Delacroix eluded to power of preconceptions, playing with the culture, tradition and art history of his own time, vying with the reality of the East to satisfy the West.

Unkown to the European male was the harem, somewhat of a female concubine that arosed the idea of an erotic space, labeling the veiled women as objects of the male gaze. Acknowledged for his perspective, Delacroix contributed to the Orientalist notion of the sexualized Muslim woman; he raised ambiguities and contradictions regarding his image of the East when in reality, women in the East were oppressed and vulnerable.

Viewers tend to believe what they are presented with is a true image of reality. The Women of Algiers (In Their Apartment) shown above, is an icon in Orientalist artwork. In this oil painting completed in 1834, Delacroix painted his image of an Algerian harem, detailed with a hookah, three white females, one dark-skinned female from the back, bare limbs, long dark hair and fabrics revealing more skin. The ‘sex slave’ became the icon of Orientalist art, casting a stereotypical and erotic gaze on Muslim women in the East.

The era of Orientalism began in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and had a major influence on the representation of the veiled Muslim woman. The power of perceptions played a leading role in the viewers’ understanding of the Eastern woman and their role in society

After having traveled in Turkey, my perception has changed, having actually observed, learned and understood women’s role and expectations in society. It is necessary to re-examine content, discern relationships, and uncover assumptions in Delacroix’s influential work to understand his approach as an Orientalist artist and to recognize the power of perceptions and the reality that is overlooked.

-Beatrice Schachenmayr

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