Challenging Orientalism: New questions of perception and reception

Emily Christensen, The Courtauld Institute of Art,

Erica Payet, The Courtauld Institute of Art,


Western visual culture has long depicted themes of Orientalism in paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and films. Since Linda Nochlin applied Edward Said’s theory to paintings in 1983, these works have occupied a complex and often uncomfortable place in Western art history. Nevertheless, Orientalist artworks continue to present their dissonant character, as simultaneously crowd-pleasing favourites and critically discounted works. Recent exhibitions, including Oriental Visions: From Dreams into Light (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, 2019), Inspired by the East: How the Islamic World Influenced Western Art (British Museum, London, 2019–20) and Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2019), reveal differing approaches to Orientalism and suggest a need to reconsider its place in contemporary art historiography.

Furthermore, the production of Orientalist visual culture did not end with postcolonialism. Contemporary examples continue to be produced and circulated, from the fine arts to cinema and the media, often without critical scrutiny. In parallel, the last decades have witnessed growing private and public collections of Orientalism throughout the Islamic world, notably in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Sharjah and Kuala Lumpur. How does their reception in these locations, and their inclusion and recontextualisation alongside collections of art from the Islamic world contribute to the existing Western art historical narrative? Where do Orientalist works sit in a postcolonial and neo-colonial world?

This session seeks to enlarge a contested field of art historical study by inviting submissions that re-evaluate its historiography, offer novel studies of Orientalist art from the 19th century to the modern day, and examine contemporary practices around its display and reception.

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