Much of the contemporary Western understanding of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa is informed by the European tradition of Orientalism. In his seminal 1978 publication, Edward Said coined the term “Orientalism” to describe the historically essentializing Western view of Middle Eastern and North African peoples and cultures as inferior, uncivilized, and exotic. During the early periods of European colonialism in regions of the Middle East and North Africa, such Orientalist ideals framed Western conceptions of their colonies. Unfortunately, this reductive mentality has continued reverberations in the West’s present-day attitude towards the Middle East and North Africa.
This exhibition seeks to challenge Western preconceptions of this region by elevating the voices of contemporary Middle Eastern and North African artists who challenge past and present echoes of Orientalist thought. Including works by Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi and Iranian artist Hadieh Shafie, and an exciting new acquisition by Iranian photographer Shirin Neshat, ReOrienting the Gaze creates a space for these contemporary artists to assert their lived experiences and unique perspectives as Middle Eastern and North African women. Placed in conversation with traditional Orientalist paintings and contemporary Orientalist photographs, these artists extract new meaning from the Oriental past and offer a more comprehensive view of their respective countries and cultures.
In the preface of Orientalism, Said proclaims, “Our role is to widen the field of discussion, not to set limits in accord with the prevailing authority.” This exhibition encourages us to do just that, as we are challenged to engage in dialogue, reconsider our biases, and reorient our gazes on the Middle East and North Africa.
ReOrienting the Gaze is guest curated by Rollins alumna Morgan Snoap, ’20.
Image: Shirin Neshat, (American, Iranian, b. 1957), In Deference, 2018, Dye-sublimination on aluminum, 25 9/16 x 40 in. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara '68 and Theodore '68 Alfond, 2018.1.23. Image courtesy of the artist.