Jane Russell Corbett
It is difficult in today’s world to avoid clichéd representations of people of cultures other than one’s own; from South Park to Borat, they are commonplace in contemporary western television and film. Ethnic and racial stereotyping has a long history, and 19th-century orientalism is one of the most studied cases of this form of cultural interaction.
Today, “orientalism” generally refers to the western representation of aspects of Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures as well as to the imitation of the styles of their arts and crafts. Until Edward Said published his provocative study Orientalism in 1978, the term tended to refer simply to the study of the languages, history and cultures of “Oriental” peoples, but Said held that the term suggests not only a particular area of study but also a way of thinking and a form of political behaviour. He argued that orientalism accords those in the “West” a privileged identity, one that is contrasted with that of the “primitive oriental.” Said’s book continues to provoke a great deal of controversy.
This course will provide a critical examination of orientalist art and artefacts produced in 19th-century France and England through the lens not only of Said’s Orientalismbut also of its critics. Examples will be drawn from a variety of the arts including, for example, paintings of orientalist subjects ranging from images of the harem to depictions of the “Biblical lands,” the imitation of Asian and Middle-Eastern themes and motifs in architecture and the decorative arts, and the adoption of artistic approaches characteristic of Japanese prints by 19th-century avant-garde artists.
We will have an opportunity to view many of these works first-hand on a field study trip to museums in Paris.
For more information refer to the syllabus.