A well-researched exhibition reflecting the traces of the history of Orientalism in fields such as architecture, archeology, performing arts, cinema and photography goes on display today at Sabancı University's Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) in İstanbul's Emirgan neighborhood.
Titled “1001 Faces of Orientalism,” the exhibition makes a reference to the name of the classic tales, Arabian Nights, which is originally called “Fairy Tales of 1001 Nights,” SSM Director Nazan Ölçer explained during a press preview for the exhibition on Wednesday at the museum.
“The main idea behind this exhibition is to clarify some of the terms being used. Orientalism is generally talked about through the art of painting. With this exhibition, we are attempting to explain that this is not the case,” Ölçer added.
The history of the relation of the West with the East is quite long, but the exhibition specifically focuses on the 19th century.
Ölçer went on to explain: “Even though it was not a success in terms of military achievements, Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign triggered a huge interest in the fields of arts and culture since he went to Egypt with a huge group of well-respected scientists from a wide variety of fields. The traces of this event were so deep that we can still observe its effects.” This is the event that the exhibition begins with, Ölçer added.
“Following Napoleon, the information that was brought by the travelers to the East sparked a huge interest in the West eventually leading to the inauguration of various professorships at the universities on the Orient. Languages such as Arabic, Turkish and Persian were taught to students and thousands of people were educated in many different fields of these departments,” Ölçer said. The current exhibition is interested in the reflections of this interest, she added.
“The issue is, of course, a hotly debated subject. In 1978, Edward Said argued in his book 'Orientalism' that Orientalism is a self-centered, condescending product of the West that was also supporting colonialism. His ideas initiated an argument, which is still going on today,” Ölçer said, noting that even though the exhibition was a continuation of Said's discourse, its main objective was to observe the oscillating dilemmas centered on the issue.
The exhibition delves into various fields in several sections: Following the first section, which is based on Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, the second part titled “Orientalism and Archeology” focuses on Eastern antiques through photographs that portray local excavation workers. The third section in the show is titled “Orientalism and Universal Exhibition” and is centered on how the image of Eastern cities was recreated through the temporary Universal Expositions of 1862, 1867, 1873, 1889 and 1893. In the section focusing on architecture, visitors will be able to see how the image of the East is being created again and again, sometimes even with the voluntarily support of the Eastern people in the West.
Titled “Orientalism and Decoration,” another section delves into the exchange of objects between the East and the West, specifically fabrics, carpets, glass and metal works, ceramics and many more. “Orientalism in the Studio” features how the invention and development of photography served to the spread of Orientalism in its own way while another section called “Orientalism in Fashion” explores the effect of Orientalism in European capitals through the costumes of famous fashion and stage designers.
In a similar vein, a section called “Orientalism on Stage” investigates the Eastern influence on European stages, including the famous Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet, 1909-1929) directed by Sergei Diaghilev.
Finally in the last section titled “Traveling to the East” Orientalism is explored through numerous objects including travel books, souvenirs, guides and Orient Express posters.
The exhibition is the outcome of a tedious work by several well-respected scholars and researchers, including Edhem Eldem, Baha Tanman, Filiz Ali, Bahattin Öztuncay, Engin Özendes and Gökhan Akçura, who will also give talks about issues touched on in the exhibition.
“1001 Faces of Orientalism” will continue until August 11 at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.