Orientalism After Edward Said

February 13, 2016

Orientalism has been at the core of my study for more than a decade.

Orientalism is a research topic and, one might say, a way of life. Reading Mathias Enard’s acclaimed novel Boussole, seemed like a trip in my biography, or a biography of the my generation as a “post-Saidian” ‘Orientalist’. Can one be a post-saidian orientalist nowadays?

LS_1984_Cairene Billboards_45 web image

Lucien Samaha, Cinema Radio and Modern (Cairo Billboards), 1984, Printed 2014, Archival Pigment Print, 76.2×111.8 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Lombard Freid Gallery, New York

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What do Voltaire, Mozart, Bonaparte, Freud, Hergé, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson have in common? 

To find out the answer, read Florence Quentin’s Livre de Egyptes, released on 29 January 2015, which explores the everlasting Western fascination for Egypt.

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz 's Cleopatra,1963

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz ‘s Cleopatra,1963

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On Friday 24 January 2014, the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art was severely damaged in a suicide car bomb attack that might have targeted the nearby State Security premises. The extent of the damages on artefacts is still unknown but reports describe the “indescribable” destruction of the building and display re-inaugurated in 2010 as many of the glass window panes were shattered as a result of the blast. It seems the museum was not a primary target but a collateral victim of a wave of terrorist attacks on the eve of the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution due to its location.

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The Cairo Museum of Islamic Art is a unique institution because of its very location in the Middle East, in the land of Orientalism. This location questions the reciprocity of the East-West relation of Orientalism: Can displaying Arab art in an Arab country constitute an “oriental” answer to Orientalism?  Read the rest of this entry »

In these times of presents, I feel like offering a short reflection on the late historian of islamic art Oleg Grabar (1929-2011) and his legacy.  Grabar started his career when Orientalism was beyond critics and participated in reevaluating and transforming the field of Islamic studies. He managed to define the undefinable of the mixed influences and melting pot of islamic art. His studies on ornament also influenced contemporary art in Middle East and beyond. Respect.

This paper was published in the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes de langue française, 2d revised and enlarged edition, december 2012.

Block Carved with a Fan Pattern, ca. 720–724. Limestone, carved. Department of Antiquities, Qasr al-Qastal Archaeological Site, Jordan

Block Carved with a Fan Pattern, ca. 720–724. Limestone, carved. Department of Antiquities, Qasr al-Qastal Archaeological Site, Jordan

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Dictionnaire des Orientalistes de langue française, édition revue et augmentée

The Dictionnaire des Orientalistes is living a third life: the 2nd revised and enlarged edition has been released last week! It’s a new version of the Dictionnary I already talked about (see here). New entries were added, mistakes were corrected. In all, the 2d edition is about 100 pages thicker than the previous one. In the meanwhile, the team (I should write network) worked hard and published that book: Après l’orientalisme, l’Orient créé par l’Orient.  These are perfect christmas presents, aren’t they?

I was honoured to write new entries and correct old ones. I was specially honoured to write an entry for Oleg Grabar which inspired a lot my approach and still remain a model.

The newest of the Louvre galleries has opened this week: Islamic Art is now displayed in a marvel of architecture. Does Display (re)invent Islamic Art? This article examines how Islamic Art as an academic field was invented at the turn of the 20th century as it was being exhibited  in Paris, Munich or London. It analyses the French connection in the invention of Islamic art and reflects on the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art in a post-9/11 context and the Orientalist tradition: unveiling the Louvre veil on Islamic art.

The first islamic Art display at the Louvre: Delort de Gléon room, Pavillon de l’horloge, 1921

That article was published (in French) in Qantara, the cultural magazine of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris), #82, winter 2012. The issue was dedicated to the Invention of Islamic Art.

Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art, Mario Bellini & Rudy Ricciott architects, 2012

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Is Islamic Art a Western invention? I open with this article a series of articles I’ve published this year on the invention of Islamic Art. It comes in line with the reopening of departments of Islamic Art a the Metropolitan  in November 2011 and at the Louvre expected in 2012. It leads to a reflection on the Orientalist tradition and the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art.

Poster & Matiss

Poster of "Meisterwerke muhammedanischer Kunst" exhibition, Munich, 1910, photo:DR. // Matisse and friends at the Oktoberfest, Munich 1910, DR.

Are contemporary exhibitions/museums of Islamic Art embedded in a century old Orientalist tradition?
Here’s a book review – published on Studia Islamica, 2011, 2 – of Avinoam Shalem & Andrea Lermer’s After One Hundred Years that celebrated the 100 years of the exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’held in Munich in 1910. The aim of the organisers the Munich 1910 exhibition was to break up with Orientalism by linking Oriental Art to Modernism. The exhibition entered history that way with Matisse among other avant-garde artists visiting it. This book examines the heritage of this amazing exhibition considered as a major landmark in Islamic Art studies. This book review offers a chance to reflect on the history of exhibitions as a research topic. It also raises questions on the contemporary exhibitions of Islamic Art in the public space and their political discontent. Is exhibiting Islamic Art political? As more museums are being opened, the orientalist tradition raises under the cover of a so-called  Islamophilia supposed the counter post 9/11 islamophobia.

After one hundred years: the 1910 exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’ reconsidered’, Andrea Lermer and Avinoam Shalem, Leyde, Brill, 2010, 401 p. Read the rest of this entry »

Osama Esid, The fantastic Jawa (Cairo Street workers series), 2006 (DR)

Following the life of the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes (we talked about it already), I’ll be participating on the 3rd conference that prepares the new edition of the Dictionnaire with another analytical volume. It’s a three days conference with 60 speakers from both sides of the Mediterranean aiming at shedding light on the old orientalist practices and renewing perspectives. The ultimate goal is to evaluate the dialogue of Orientalism with and within the Orient.

I’ll talk in the F. Pouillon’s round table #2 “inventing the  Tradition” : Cairo’s Museum of Arab Art: Anatomy* of an Orientalist institution in the Orient (1881-2010).

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Here is a short book review of Silvia Naef’s Y-a-t-il une « question de l’image » en Islam ? [litt. Is there ‘a question of image’ in Islam? / trans. Pictures and Aniconism in Islam] (Paris, Téraèdre, 2004 / published in German in 2007). It was written in 2006 but published in 2004 [sic!] in Studia Islamica. It’s available online on Jstor. If I were to write it again I would write something very different. Reviewing that book offers a chance to discuss the issues of Orientalism and how the contemporary understanding of pictures and images is embedded in the 19th c. conception of an essentialist prohibition of pictures in Islam.

A propos de Silvia Naef, Y-a-t-il une « question de l’image » en Islam ? Paris, Téraèdre (collection « l’Islam en débats »), 2004, 132 pages.

1. La question de l’image en Islam est-elle caricaturale ? « L’affaire des caricatures » aux premiers mois de 2006 a réveillé de vieux démons d’une opposition Occident-Orient. Des caricatures du Prophète de l’Islam publiées dans le magazine danois Jyllands-Posten mettaient le feu aux poudres. Pour les commentateurs, peu importaient les dessins, leur pertinence ou impertinence, le bon ou le mauvais goût, qu’ils aient été vus ou non, c’était le principe de l’interdiction de la représentation figurée (en particulier celle du Prophète) qui avait été enfreint. Ce qui était alors apparu comme une haine de l’Occident pour les uns répondait à ce qui était vécu comme une haine de l’Islam[1] pour les autres. Le débat s’est donc résumé à une opposition de partis autour d’une idée reçue sur l’Islam, des mieux enracinées dans les consciences, celle d’une société sans images. Read the rest of this entry »

News and updates

April 5, 2011

Until #Feb17 events in Libya, I was in charge of a team whose responsibility was the creation of a centre for digital conservation of Libyan historical archives in Tripoli. Of course, our activities stopped and I’m back in France.
I’ve found a shelter near Lille and settled in front of the computer.

What’s on the shelf now?

I’m looking for a job in Heritage management and/or research. I’m applying widely to positions in Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Read the rest of this entry »