Neo-Orientalism in the Contemporary Image
Silva Kalčić, “Neo-Orientalism in the Contemporary Image“, paper presented on the XLVIIth AICA Congress in South Korea, in 2014. The theme of the Congress was Art Criticism in a Labyrinth.
This paper focuses on the subject of communicational and identification-related dimension of Neo- Orientalism and its semiotics, which has often been used as a subject and a medium in the critique of neo-colonialism and in Edward W. Saïd’s concept of orientalization mechanisms (as in the work of Kader Attia), with examples from the history and contemporary art of Croatia (the Balkans, former Yugoslavia, ex-South-Eastern Europe, the European Union). Saïd’s first and most important work Orientalism, published in 1978, is a groundbreaking critique of the systematic conceptual invention of “East” and “West”, as well as a foundational text for the academic field of Post-Colonial Studies, wherein the denotations and connotations of the term “Orientalism” have been expanded to describe what Saïd sees as the false cultural assumptions of the “Western World” as they facilitate the cultural misrepresentation of “the Orient” (Oriens in Ancient Rome) in general, and of the Middle East (Levant) in particular. For Saïd, the term “Orientalism” describes the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against the Arabo-Islamic culture”: cultural prejudices that are derived from a long tradition of romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East, which have, in practice, functioned as implicit justifications for the colonial and imperial ambitions of the European powers and the U.S. Moreover, in his criticism of the systematic conceptual invention of “East” and “West”, Saïd further describes, criticizes, and denounces the social, economic, and cultural practices of the ruling Arab élites who, as he claims, have internalized, as imperial satraps, the romanticized “Arabic Culture” created by the British and American Orientalists. Saïd argues that the “Orient” is a fixture of the West’s imagination because it performs a “mirroring function” against which the West defines itself.
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