Orientalism is something that I really love. Or better, I love to study and understand the Orientalist perspective that sometimes, even today, is still present. And it is. Just have a look at Twitter, and you will find a lot, really a lot of pictures of Orientalist paintings, that represent a certain image of the Orient, or better the Near East.
#DonnedOriente [Oriental women]: trying to find a definition
I have started with following an Italian hashtag: #Donnedoriente.
The phrase ‘Donne d’Oriente’, in Italian ‘Oriental Women’ is actually to be found in a huge variety of tweets, with pictures that depict women (you don’t say!), that presumably live and come from a wide wide wide and wild geographical area, the Orient, not better defined, that spans from North Africa to Japan (what???).
The concept is so wide that among the pictures we even find Miyazaki’s characters. Even Ponyo (which is a little girl,not a woman. Not even! Ponyo is a fish transformed in a girl.. Ponyo = “Oriental woman”? I have doubts).
— Elisa (@Elisagn73) 19 Gennaio 2015
Then we find geishas, a Japanese fisher-woman, Turkish odalisques, veiled women, women with burqa, Japanese actresses, Biblical characters, Bali dancers.
I would really like to define the ‘Oriental women’ that are included in the hashtag, but anyway all these subjets do not have much in common. They can be defined by three characteristics:
- they are female (little girls, young women, female cartoon characters, transformed fishes)
- they are not European or American (in a word, they do not come from the West)
- they are dressed with traditional dresses, or undressed in a traditional way
The Near Eastern Oriental women represented
I do not know much about Far Eastern cultures, thus I cannot speak about geishas, Miyazaki’s characters, Bali dancers and Japanese fisher-women. Anyway, even if I will concentrate mainly on the Near Eastern characters represented.
The first thing worth noticing is the way they are depicted, and represented in the #DonnedOriente tweets, or better, in the 19th century paintings the tweets display.
They are usually half naked, displayed in sensual poses.
— marmitri (@mamisblu) 19 Gennaio 2015
Or they are totally naked, laying down on a mattress, listening to music, or simply napping.
In other cases they are fully dressed, totally concealed behind a veil, or a burqa, doing traditional things in a folkloristic setting.
The image of the Orient as a woman
Anyway, in the majority of the paintings the sensual and sometimes erotic aspect is pretty clear. The women depicted are static in the place and time. They are displayed in a way they are actually objects: in some cases they are doing absolutely nothing, laying on a bed, in some other cases they are dancing, mostly not for an audience ‘inside the painting’ but for the external viewer. The women, that represent the Orient, are at the viewer disposal, they are static objects, that will be there to be enjoyed by the western public. That of course can conquest them (together with their land).
In this regard, the women are the exact representation of an Orient that attire the Western men, who can conquer and enjoy it. An attitude typical of a Colonialist and Imperialist view.
19th century Orientalist paintings on Twitter
19th cenury painters, such as Ingres or Delacroix, are certainly masters. Their paintings are wonderful and a pleasure for your eyes. Anyway, what I am asking is: do they still represent our imaginary around Orient? Their exotic taste still coincides with ours? As long as these tweets are concerned, I am afraid the only answer is yes, it does. The taste for the exotic is ever present, and the depiction of the Orient as a stylized, static and permanent situation is still present and enjoyed by many. The way the Near Eastern ‘Orient’ is represented or seen has not changed since two centuries ago, apparently, at least, on Twitter.
To have a look to a collection of images representing the Orient on Twitter and other social media, you can have a look to my Pinterest board: Orientalism in paintings
Edward Said’s book is of course a much valuable resource to understand Orientalism, and the Orientalist attitude: E. Said, Orientalism, Penguin, London 2003. [full text]
In a previous post I explored more generally the topic: Twitter and Orientalism: the taste for the exotic in digital era