Saturday, 28 January 2012

Lecture: Exoticism in Design

Through this lecture we looked at the different kinds of Orientalism upto 1900. At this point the word "orientalism" referred to everything from Middle-Eastern Europe all the way to Japan, this shows the lack of understanding of the vast area and the wide range of cultures within the area, this lack of understanding meant that attitudes were based as much on European fantasies as on reality. Europeans over-simplified that colonial societies, and based their opinions on stereotypes; that all these cultures were the same and that they were all inferior to westerners. Despite this views of the Orient, it's interesting to look at how popular oriental influences were in art and design. Chinoiserie became elite exoticism, fusing Chinese and western decorative styles, a great example of this influence is the Pagoda built in Kew Gardens in 1761. Japanese Exoticism became in very influencial in design from 1860, many westerners took ideas from Japan, and used them to transform designs. Japanese influence spread into art as well as design, Van Gogh saying " all my work is founded on Japanese art" really cements this idea. However, Japanese art was very decadent and beautiful in Japan, but was seen as new and revolutionary in Europe, proving that there was no real understanding of far eastern cultures.
Another element of this lecture was the idea of Orientalism and the Veiled Woman. From 1800, Europeans saw Middle Eastern cultures as defined by this idea of "orientalism". These "oriental" people were supposed to be more passionate than Europeans, then began a European fascination of women who were covered up in public and hidden indoors in the "hareem", This gave the feeling of forbidden fruit. All of these views came from misleading and incorrect  stories from the east, which fed these fantasies europeans held of the orient. It was interesting to look at the origins of veiling in different cultures, as all major world religions have codes of modesty for women, usually interpreted as covering hair and head as a sign of obedience to God. In the past in Christian Europe everyone covered their heads outside the home, whereas nowadays it is a way of marking special occasions, such as church hats and bridal veils, or a way for women  to mark themselves as separate such as Nuns. The fascination with the veiled women from the east would also have come about as Middle Eastern women's clothes were the complete opposite of European womens; faces covered, bodies loose - not corseted like western women. This is why Poiret's designs of trousers for women were so controversial, as for the first time in European fashion attention was drawn to womens legs through hareem trousers, similar to those of the women in the hareems. Its interesting to see the massive influence of "oriental" styles throughout European history, despite the lack of understanding of the region and its culture.

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