2011 History of Art Fall Symposium Abstracts

Keynote: "In My Grandfather’s Darkroom: On Photographic (Self-)Exoticism in the Middle East"
Ali Behdad
(University of California Los Angeles)

Although it would be a great scholarly error to view early local photographic practices in the Middle East as merely derivative of their western counterparts, I wish to argue in my talk that it would be equally erroneous to consider them either as oppositional practices working against Orientalist aesthetics or as pure articulations of the vernacular cultures in the region. Focusing on a broad range of photographic images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including some produced by my own grandfather, I will discuss how middle and upper class men in the Middle East embraced photography to foreground their social status and patriarchal values, while they also engaged in what one might call “photo-exoticism,” a mode of representation that reduced people of the lower classes to (ethnographic) types. At a time when photographic processes were extremely expensive and difficult to execute, many Iranian and other Middle Eastern indigenous photographers produced a fairly large archive of exoticist and eroticized images that perpetuated Orientalist perceptions of the region.

Ali Behdad is John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature and chair of English at UCLA. He has published widely on a broad range of topics, including literature and travel, nationalism and immigration, and Orientalist photography. He is the author of Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution (Duke U Press, 1994) and A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States (Duke U Press, 2005), and the co-editor of A Companion to Comparative Literature (Blackwell, 2011). He is currently completing a manuscript tentatively titled, Contact Visions: On Photography and Modernity in the Middle East, and a co-edited Volume, Photography's Orientalism (GRI, 2012).

"Glimpses at the Asian Borderlands:Pre-modern Japanese Representations of India and the Islamic World"
Fabio Rambelli
(University of California Santa Barbara)

I plan to present an account of textual and visual representations—I need to do both
because there is a significant de-coupling between those two registers—of India and the Muslim world circulating in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867). At that time, the Buddhist worldview that formed Japanese classical geopolitics is given more concrete representations while at the same time being challenged by both Western notions such as "Asia" and Chinese "China vs. the barbarians (ka-i)" ethnocentrism. In the process, India is removed from the center of classical geopolitics and turned into a remote land. I will argue that the othering of India contributed to reducing the interest of the Japanese in remote peoples outside the sphere of East Asian civilization; a trend particularly evident in Japanese representations of the Islamic world

"Foreign Devils, Benign Monsters: Westerners (and Other Foreigners) in Thai Buddhist Cosmographies"
Maurizio Peleggi
(National University of Singapore)

Images of Europeans, as well as Middle Easterners and Chinese, appear frequently in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Thai illuminated manuscripts and temple murals. Their representation is not surprising in view of the establishment of communities of foreign traders in Thailand’s royal capital since the 1600s. But more than the standard iconography of these figures of the Other, it is the context in which they appear— Buddhist cosmographies and narratives—that calls for examination. For what reason are Dutch and English sailors depicted navigating the cosmic ocean, and French and Arab horsemen riding in the army of Mara, the Buddha’s enemy? In this talk I propose that in a visual culture whose raison d’étre was the propagation of Buddhist ethical precepts and metaphysical tenets, the representation of strangers, while reflecting the historical realities of early-modern world encounters, partook of a cultural strategy of naturalization, and hence neutralization, of these “human Others” as an unthreatening presence in the Thai universe.

Maurizio Peleggi is associate professor of history at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of Thailand, the Worldly Kingdom (London: Reaktion, 2007), Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy’s Modern Image (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), The Politics of Ruins and the Business of Nostalgia (Bangkok: White Lotus, 2002), and several journal articles and essays in edited volumes on Thailand’s visual and material culture, and on the conservation and consumption of heritage, as well as the co-editor (with John Clark and T. K. Sabapathy) of Eye of the Beholder: Reception, Audience and Practice of Modern Asian Art (Sydney: Wild Peony Press, 2006).

"The Camel Breeder, the Belly Dancer, the Palestinian Bride and the Terrorist Images of Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in Contemporary Japanese Art and Visual Culture"
Ayelet Zohar
(Haifa University, Israel)

In his book Japan’s Orient (1995), Stefan Tanaka argued that Japan, as a culture
that was a target of European Orientalist attitudes, developed its own Orientalist approach towards Asia from late nineteenth-century onwards. Moreover, the political climate in Japan during the early 2000s, especially vis-à-vis the Iraq war, indicates that the issues of Japanese conceptions of Asia continue to be informed by a Japanese Orientalism. My presentation focuses on the proliferation and dissemination of problematic images of Arabs in Japan , as part of the broader discourse on Japan’s position between Asia and “the West,” as illustrated by four different art projects. They are Noguchi Rika’s “In the Desert” (2007), a photographic project taken among the camel breeders outside Sharjah City in UAE; Miyashita Maki’s photographic project “Japanese Belly Dancer” (1999), in which she presents the consumption of feminine body beyond its specific cultural context; Yoshida Kimiko’s “Palestinian Bride” (2005), a photographic series executed for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; and Aida Makoto’s “The Video of a Man Calling Himself Bin Laden Staying in Japan” (2005), a project that exploits Bin Laden’s mythological status as a tool for self-criticism and a fresh analysis of Japanese society.

Ayelet Zohar is an artist, curator, and visual culture researcher. She is a lecturer at the department of East-Asian Studies and Art History at the University of Haifa, and leader of the curatorial-studies program at the Kibbutzim Seminar in Tel Aviv. Zohar completed her second postdoctoral research at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC this summer, while her first postdoctoral research was in Japanese Studies at Stanford University (2007-9). Zohar received her PhD from the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London in 2007. Zohar was recently invited to guest-edit the special issue on photographic portraiture in East-Asia for the Trans-Asia Photographic Review (tapreview.org). She is also the editor of PostGender: Gender, Sexuality and Performativity in Japanese Culture (Cambridge Scholars Publication, 2009), after her curatorial endeavor presenting contemporary Japanese perceptions of gender and sexuality in photography and video-art, exhibited at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, 2005. Other publications include articles in peer-reviewed journals on Japanese photography and Palestinian-Israeli artists. Zohar is an active multidisciplinary artist and her work was shown in various museums and galleries in the US, the UK, Japan, China, and Israel.