On-line version ISSN 2309-9070
Tydskr. letterkd. vol.45 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2008
Hester du Plessis
Hester du Plessis is a Senior Researcher in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa and holds a Research Chair in Design Education at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arab culture and the religion of Islam permeated the traditions and customs of the African sub-Sahara for centuries. When the early colonizers from Europe arrived in Africa they encountered these influences and spontaneously perceived the African cultures to be ideologically hybridized and more compatible with Islam than with the ideologies of the west. This difference progressively endorsed a perception of Africa and the east being "exotic" and was as such depicted in early paintings and writings. This depiction contributed to a cultural misunderstanding of Africa and facilitated colonialism. This article briefly explores some of the facets of these early texts and paintings. In the first place the scripts by early Muslim scholars, who critically analyzed early western perceptions, were discussed against the textual interpretation of east-west perceptions such as the construction of "the other". Secondly, the travel writers and painters between 1860 and 1 930, who created a visual embodiment of the exotic, were discussed against the politics behind the French Realist movement that developed in France during that same period. This included the construction of a perception of exoticness as represented by literature descriptions and visual art depictions of the women of the Orient. These perceptions rendered Africa as oriental with African subjects depicted as "exotic others".
Key words: Oriental Art, Africa, Orientalism, cultural perceptions
Full text available only in PDF format.
1. Benjamin (2003: 11) made reference to Baudelaire's "The salon of 1859".
2. Such ideas are still current. A fine example comes from John Barth's The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1992) discussed in Sardar (1998: 177) when the main character came across an Arab restaurant it provoked an extremely negative notion of "Islam" such as "an Ingres harem scene, muskmarine vulva", "copper-fleeced armpits" and "unprecedently sustained erections".
3. There was nothing new about the term as such and, according to Said (1995), it was regularly used to refer to scholars of the Near and Middle East.
Works consulted and cited
Abdel-Malek, Anouar. 1981. Civilisations and Social Theory. London: Macmillan. In Sardar, Z. 1999. Orientalism. Buckingham: Open University Press. [ Links ]
Alatas, Sayed H. 1977. The Myth of the Lazy Native. London: Frank Cass. [ Links ]
Almond, Ian. 2007. The New Orientalists. Postmodern representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard. London: Tauris. [ Links ]
Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. [ Links ]
Benjamin, R. 2003. Orientalist Aesthetics. Art, Colonialism and French North Africa, 1880-1930. Berkeley: University of California Press. [ Links ]
Baldick, R. 1965 . The Memoirs of Chateaubriand. Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Burke, Jason. 2003. Al-Qaeda. Casting a shadow of terror. London. Tauris. [ Links ]
____. 2007. On the Road to Kandahar. Travels through Conflict in the Islamic world. London: Penguin Books. [ Links ]
Djait, F.1985. Europe and Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press. [ Links ]
Gandhi, L. 1998. Postcolonial Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. [ Links ]
Jacobson, C. 2006. The poster girl of Palestinian militancy. Sunday Times, 26th July. [ Links ]
Morton, S. 2003. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London: Routledge. [ Links ]
Peltre, C. 2004. Orientalism. [ Links ] [S. p.]: Publisher No. 308.
Polk, M & A. Schuster. 2005. The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad. The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia. New York: Harry Abrams, Incorporated. [ Links ]
Said, Edward W. 1994. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage. [ Links ]
____. 1995 . Orientalism. London: Penguin.
____. 2003. A window on the world. Guardian Unlimited: the Guardian Review, 2 August 2003, 1-2. [ Links ]
Sardar, Z. 1998. Postmodernism and the Other. London: Pluto Press. [ Links ]
____. 1999. Orientalism. Buckingham: Open University Press. [ Links ]
Sinha, M. 1995. The 'Manly Englishman' and the 'Effeminate Bengali' in the late nineteenth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press. [ Links ]
Spivak, G. 2006. In Other worlds. London: Routledge. [ Links ]
Thompson, D. 2001. Radical Feminism Today. London: Sage Publications. [ Links ]
Tibawi, L. 1964. English speaking Orientalists: A Critique of their Approach to Islam and Arab Nationalism. London: Luzac. [ Links ]
Vincent, A. 1992. Modern Political Ideologies. Oxford: Blackwell. [ Links ]