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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Osama Esid and Orientalism

Osama Esid is a Syrian-born, Minneapolis based artist who works with ideas of Orientalism - specifically how Western constructs of the exotic are also part of the 'Oriental' (Arab in this case) identity and world-view.

He cranks this up in his beautiful hand-tinted large format pictures that wind a mythologized past into an idealized present. We all like to mythologize the places we live/don't live - people do it in England, idealizing the simple life of Devon and Dorset and Cornwall, fantasizing about downsizing from London and moving to Bristol (aka Clifton) or Bath. In Indonesia, people living in Jakarta idealize Bali (just as we do), or talk about their dreams of living the simple peasant life in the kampung - with a golf course not too far away if possible but they don't mention that. Migrants do the same on their hell-trips across Asia, Africa and Europe, dreaming of a safe and prosperous England to get them through their journey, and millions more around the world hope to live out their very own American Dream - so as well as your down the line Edward Said style Orientalism there are countless variations on the theme and opposing, but really very similar, forms of Occidentalism.

So, although Esid deals quite specifically with Orientalist perspectives, he also deals with the universal virtue/vice of idealisation, something you could extend to far wider areas of representation - including my own current interest, that of childhood.

So it's good to see such universal themes dealt with so directly in his beautiful pictures. There is a sense of he's having his cake and eating it, but so what. Lots of people tint their pictures, lots of people pose workers with their tools in studios and hope something profound or beautiful will emerge - and most times nothing does and you get a cringeworthy mess. Esid's pictures aren't cringeworthy - they are lovely. And he gets to eat his cake.

His website is here, but I couldn't get past the beautiful music. The words below are from the gallery statement, and represent a middle way that could apply to almost anywhere in the world that is idealized or represented as some kind of exotic/paradise/Shangri-La. So not "grandiloquent hokum" (I think that matters, but I'm not entirely sure).

For Esid that image of Orient constructed by the West also penetrated the East, “the oriental fantasy exists on both sides”. Furthermore and here is where Esid’s motivation and inspiration lies, one can inquire into a stereotype to create new interpretations using its own language and mechanisms and feeding on those same inner contradictions, without needing to pigeonhole a culture.

Thus in the “Orientalism and Nostalgia” series, Esid reconstructs a theatrical period scenario but displaces it in full XXI century in one of the most important capitals of the region, Cairo. The aim of each piece is to acquire the atmosphere of those old vintage pictorialist photos, where beauty becomes the main protagonist. He highlights the more sensual side of Orientalism, referring to those essentially feminine spaces which also remind us of French XIX century painting. He retrieves the sensuality and eroticism in the gaze and enticing pose, although endowing his women with a defiant intensity, no longer passive and complacent, but on the contrary women who are in control of their bodies and their destinies.

By acknowledging beauty in this context, Osama Esid brings forth another representative twist, which is to try to modify the current widespread vision of his region, one characterised by images of war, terrorism and fundamentalism.

On the other hand, the “Workers of Cairo” series presents a direct contemporary account of the most common professions and jobs of this immense metropolis. Once again, however Esid portrays it as if it belonged to another time, endowing his models with a timeless quality. The strength of this series, which is so reminiscent of the work of August Sander, lies in forcing both the Western and Eastern audience to observe those armies of average men who create our day to day lives, the mundane heroes, who we refuse to acknowledge and would prefer to ignore.

1 comment:

cafe selavy said...

You've broken my heart with this one. It is a theme I've pursued and enjoy. Creativity is best when it is attempting to disrupt the bland cohesiveness (or the desire for a cohesive ideology) of the second and third waves.

You've introduced me to Esid. Now I must find a way to move forward.