Arab News Features Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi, Les Femmes du Maroc, 2005

DUBAI: A new exhibition that explores how Western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world is to open in October at the British Museum in London.


“Inspired by the East: How the Islamic World Influenced Western Art” will explore the complex cultural interactions between Europe and North America in the “West” and North Africa and the Middle East in the “East.”


The curators will explore the concept of Orientalism, the representation of the East in Western artistic depictions, where fantasy and reality were often blurred.


 “We are not only showing typical 19th-century paintings which most people think of when they think of Orientalism. You can find the roots of exchange in Orientalism as far back as the 15th century. We want to trace these early roots and show how they can still be found,” Julia Tugwell, the exhibition’s co-curator, told Arab News.


The exhibition will also feature four contemporary reactions to Orientalist imagery by Middle Eastern and North African female artists, including Lalla Essaydi’s “Women of Morocco” triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work “Harem.”


 “By finishing with four contemporary female artists they are in a sense critiquing some of these stereotypical representations, particularly of women in the 19th century, and it is important to show that this is still something that we can talk about and not something we can push aside to the past,” she said.


Orientalism reinforced a range of stereotypes associated with Eastern cultures, but the exhibition is exploring this form of art as more than a naive depiction or as dealing in stereotypes.


“Of course, there were times where this definition existed, as some people were painting just for a market to sell to, but it is more complex than that. Western artists were inspired by the Islamic ceramics that were very popular in the 19th century in London, for example decorating buildings that are still there today,” Tugwell said.


Exploring art from the Eastern world that depicts the West in a stereotyped way is a reverse form of Orientalism that is also explored in the exhibition through one example from Iran.


“It is a manuscript and it is a portrait of a European. It is interesting because it is done in a traditional kind of miniature painting style from that period,” Tugwell said. 


The exhibition will run from Oct. 10 to Jan. 26.