Art in the Round: Orientalism
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Tate Britain’s exhibit collects over a hundred depictions of “bazaars, public baths, domestic interiors and religious sites”—the diverse, intricately decorated spaces of another world that became a fascination for European artists beginning in the late 18th century. The exhibit doesn’t gloss over the artistic movement, however, whose purpose was challenged in the 20th century by the philosopher Edward Said.
While the artistic merit, the skill and creativity behind Orientalist art can’t be denied, the trajectory of Orientalism doesn’t stop at the canvases. As the British Empire shrank and more scholarly studies of East and West were shared, the Palestinian philosopher Edward Said emerged with a new concept: that Orientalism as a movement was limited in its viewpoints, depicting but not entirely understanding, generalizing rather than specifying. In his 1978 book “Orientalism,” now required reading in schools and universities, Said, a Columbia University professor who died in 2003, showed how an examination of his own roots uncovered images of the Near and Middle East as an “ideal other” created by the West. In this video, Said discusses the roots of his book and how Orientalist art fits into the larger picture of the historical movement.