Jill Beaulieu, Mary Roberts, eds. Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002. ix + 227 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8223-2874-2; $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8223-2859-9.
eds Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts. Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. ix + 227 pp.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier (Harriman Institute, Columbia University)
Published on H-Gender-MidEast (December, 2005)
A Trope of One's Own
This collection of essays challenges the accepted wisdom that Orientalism expresses the politics of Western domination. As the book's title indicates, it treats visual representation of the Orient not as a one-sided relationship but as a dialogue. More than that, it also deepens, or "triangulates," our understanding of the complexities of cross-cultural encounters by relying on recent post-colonial and gender studies.
The first section presents the Orient's contribution. Zeynep Celik discusses how a Turkish painter, a Sultan's photo album, and a Moroccan architect defined their own independent identities and challenged Western stereotypes. Roger Benjamin contrasts two Algerian painters: one adopted an Occidental manner in his landscapes; the other made use of native tradition, Persian and Mughal miniatures, to produce an original style. Mark Crinson writes about post-World War II construction of mosques in London as signifying an active Muslim engagement in spatial politics.
The second part deals with the colonizers' visual representation of the Orient. Deborah Cherry discusses landscape painting by nineteenth-century British residents in the Maghreb and the degree to which these works expressed imperial control. Hollis Clayton analyzes Henri Regnault's changing representation of Oriental masculinity from that of barbaric strength to languid passivity and relates it to the painter's personal life. Mary Roberts discusses various ramifications of harem paintings by Western women.
The book contains more than just valuable new information. Due to the contributors' effort at triangulation, to expand and enrich the duality of the East-West dialogue approach with insights gained from postcolonial studies, the essays also provide novel interpretations as well as revisions. For the most part, arguments are not presented in simplistic, black and white, terms. Instead the reader is offered insightful interpretations that belie reductionist conclusions.
A good example of the prevailing tone is offered by Mary Roberts' essay. It presents Western women's paintings of harems as offering a more accurate, ethnographic description of a social realm closed to Western male artists, whose idealized depictions reflect male sexual fantasies about indolent odalisques. She also offers the insight that Western women painters operated within a fantasy trope of their own, influenced as they were by reading The Arabian Nights. In addition, Robert's essay includes intriguing information about the active role that Oriental women played in shaping their own image. For example, one Ottoman princess insisted that her foreign portraitist paint her not in the traditional Eastern attire but in the latest fashionable Western outfit.
Most authors substantiate their analysis of post-colonial or gender issues inherent in the representation of the Orient with references to readily evident written or visual material. However, Deborah Cherry's essay on the politics of Maghreb landscape painting by Western women tends to make her point with the help of excessive quotations from Linda Nochlin, Jacques Derrida, and Homi Bhabha. As far as this reviewer is concerned, the former method of presentation is more useful for teaching purposes than the latter.
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Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier. Review of Beaulieu, Jill; Roberts, Mary, eds., Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography and
Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts, eds, Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography.
H-Gender-MidEast, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.