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Copy of Speaking Back To Orientalist Discourse

Zeynep Celik

Claire Gallien

on 4 October 2014

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Transcript of Copy of Speaking Back To Orientalist Discourse

Speaking Back To Orientalist Discourse
Zeynep Celik
in Orientalism's Interlocutors
Presenters: Adna Ahmed
Zeynep Celik is a distinguished participant in the Orientalist debate, in "Speaking Back to Orientalist Discourse," presents four examples to show that Orientalism is a "dialogue between cultures and about contesting the dominant norms" (p. 21).

She selects two case studies from the Ottoman Empire: paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), who studied in Paris and returned to paint his own vision of his country and people; and the photography albums that the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II presented to the Library of Congress in 1893, depicting the modernization and Westernization of his realm.

Her two other examples are from colonial contexts: the search for authenticity in French colonial architecture and in the work of the Egyptian Hasan Fathy; and the analysis by Algerian writer Assia Djebar of Delacroix's and Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger, one painted at the beginning of the French occupation and the other at the end, and how they speak to divergent interpretations of this socio-cultural transformation.
Celik begins by introducing us to a poem, entitled “Pierre Loti” that is written by a Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet in 1925, that literally speaks back to Orientalist discourse by addressing the European depictions of the Orient. The poem describes European representation of the Orient and states that “this is the Orient of the books….an Orient like this never existed and never will” (p.19)

Celik states that this speaking back to Orientalist discourse follows a turn-of-the century Ottoman intellectual transition, that are in a revolt against Orientalist misconceptions
Main Argument
Celik mentions what she will be focusing on, although she states the problems with correcting these distortions- she clearly writes that she will only be briefly touching upon these issues, but instead focusing more on the artistic and architectural responses to Orientalism.

“I address these complex issues only tangentially; I limit myself, instead, to the presentation of several artistic and architectural responses to Orientalism in an attempt to contribute to the triangulation of recent critical scholarship in art history that examines the discourse from the “Western” perspective" (p. 21)
“My approach to Orientalism from the “other” side, the side of the Orientals”, is aimed to bring another perspective to the discourse. Studied from this unconventional corner, Orientalism reveals a hitherto concealed dynamism, one that is about dialogue between cultures and about contesting the dominant norms” (p. 21)
Celik means that contesting or correcting these stereotypes can lead to its own challenges and problems, some of which is a struggle for power and another being creating another “truth” or another representation
“The corrections to these distortions has its own problems. It is static; it is also based on a struggle for power; it replaces one “truth” with another; and it reclaims the hierarchy by inverting it”( p.21)
The ‘other’ side that Celik mentions is a side that is rarely studied in Oriental discourse and that is the perspective of the Orient. Artists such as Osman Hamdi Bey and Hasan Fathy are some of the artists that Celik studies and it is their interpretation or self-representation of themselves that guide her approach.
Osman Hamdi Bey
Was Ottoman painter in the late 19th early 20th century. His work focused on speaking back to Orientalism.
His work provides critiques of mainstream Orientalist painting, they represent a resistant voice, whose power derives from the painter's position as an Ottoman intellectual, as well as from his intimate acquaintance with the school's mental framework, techniques and convention.
In Hamdi's painting he depicts men and women as capable, acting human beings who display none of the characteristics (such as passiveness and submissiveness) that were attributed to them by European painters.
Osman Hamdi addresses the major themes of Orientalist painters from his critical stance as an insider on the outside.
“Art and architectural history responded to Said’s challenge and, not surprisingly, followed the model established by Orientalism, thus engaging in analyses of artworks that contributed to the construction of an ”Orient”” (p. 21).

Hamdi’s painting in effect “painted back “ against Orientalist bias. This real or authentic oriental artist took on the skills of European painters but not their ethnocentric mentality.
Gerome Le Bain- The Bath (1880)
Osman Hamdi Bey- Girl Having Her Hair Combed (1881)
How effective is this self-representation in challenging and contesting these dominant representations of the Orient?
The Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II in 1893 presented fifty-one photography albums to the National Library of the United States. These albums contained 1,819 photographs taken by Turkish photographers.
“Dolmabahce’s exterior and the interior photographs in the Abdulhamid albums hence offered a very different palace from the older Ottoman palaces. They also contradicted the palaces of the Orientalist discourse that had constructed imaginary serails" (p. 28).
How would these photographs accurately depict the Ottoman Empire? They were consciously depicting themselves in a positive light but also similar to Western norms. Were they really giving into European tastes? If so, how accurate really is this representation in trying to challenge European misconceptions?
The major theme of these photographs was Modernization. These pictures depicted architectural modernity and that is evident in the way that the spaces were organized in a manner that was related to contemporary French Empire style.
The Search For Authenticity in French Colonial Architecture
Celik’s next case study is set in the colonial context and she states that in the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a major turn from monumental to residential forms that occurred in the architectural discourse.
There was already a significant body of literature on non-western architecture in the late nineteenth century in Europe
Celik focuses on North African French colonies specifically because their vernacular architecture was the subject of scrupulous documentation and analysis
There was a collection of books on North African Vernacular architecture at the time and one of them was written by Albert Laprade who was working at Morroco at the time.
Celik states that “these books played an important role in disseminating the image of North African vernacular architecture in the metropole and outer-mer—furthermore the creation of temporary quarters deemed “authentic”—played a crucial role in the dissemination of North African vernacular imagery ” (p. 32)
The experiments like the new madina of Casablanca made a significant impact, ultimately affecting the postcolonial searches for an expression of cultural identity in architecture and urban form.
This experiment was designed by Albert Laprade and built in the 1920’s and was said to have taken into consideration the "customs and scruples" of the indigenous populations as well as French "hygiene."
Laprade also implied that he has improved local architecture by appropriating what was seen as valuable by modernist architectural discourse and by eliminating what was not considered “respectable”
During the same time as Albert Laprade, Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy insisted on returning to the oldest and purest building traditions of Egypt (those of the countryside) in his own search for authenticity, this search also grew out of French colonial architectural experiments in North Africa“Fathy’s pioneering drive to return to a past of purity, decontaminated from the ills of rapid change, was in reaction to the unquestioning subscription to modernity that had resulted in “cultural confusion” and loss of tradition in Egyptian cities and villages” (p. 35)
Although a problem with Fathy’s work that was mentioned to us in the text was that in his attempt to express national identity Fathy relied on techniques and language borrowed from European architects. “Like Fanon’s “native intellectual”, Fathy ended up creating a “hallmark which wishes to be national, but is strangely reminiscent of exoticism” (p. 35).

“The later adoption, interpretation, and transfiguration of these traditions reveal intriguing questions about issues of authenticity in an age that desperately looks for a sense of national identity while engulfed by globalization” (p.31)
In the reading Celik cites an author who states that a “return to authenticity is a closed route” and there is no such concept as “authenticity”. In the case of Fathy do you feel as though a search for authenticity in architecture is a closed route or do you feel like since the French Colonial architects and Fathy both had different meanings and agendas behind their designs it carried different implications, although seeming similar?
Casablanca, Nouvelle Ville Indigène, aerial view (Vaillat, Le Visage français du Maroc ).
Interpreting SocioCulural Transformation through Eugene Delacroix and Picasso
• Celik’s last case study is also based in the colonial context, she examines Eugene Delacroix’s painting Les Femmes d’Alger dans leur apartment (1834) and how this painting carries as a reference point for the colonial and postcolonial periods

• Delacroix’s painting was considered as an important political symbol because it represented the conquest of Algeria by entering the Algerian home during Algeria’s occupation in the 1930’s.

• Algerian writer Assia Djebar also interprets Delacroix’s painting in reference to Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955)

• Delacroix’s painting marking the beginning of the French colonization and Picasso’s marking the end of French occupation in Algeria
Delacroix- Les Femmes d’Alger dans leur apartment (1834)
“The paintings evoke divergent interpretations for Djebar, sparked by differences in the visions of the two European artists, but more important, in the sociocultural transformations brought by the French occupation and the Algerian War.

It is not Delacroix’s “superficial Orient” that Djebar cared to dissect, but the subtler implications of the painting, especially the fact that the scene makes the observer conscious of his unwarranted presence in the intimacy of this room, which is enclosed upon the women frozen in an act of waiting, passive and resigned” (p.37)
In contrast, Djebar argues that in Picasso’s work, the universe of the women of Algiers has been completely transformed from Delacroix’s “tragedy” into a “new happiness” by means of a “glorious liberation of space, an awakening of body in dance, energy, free movement” (p. 37-38)

Djebar’s reading of Delacroix’s and Picasso’s works to frame the dramatic change in women’s lives during her country’s colonial and post-colonial periods.
Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955)
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