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Dancers in Orientalist Art – 2021 Edition

Hello Gang! I’ve done a complete top to bottom renovation of one of my most requested workshops. This classic talk, “Dancers in Orientalist Art,” has been updated for 2021.  The first time I presented this material, this was a paper and presentation for a graduate seminar.  Back then, I was working towards an MA in art history at UC Davis in 1997.  Since then, this talk has evolved, changed, and grown.  I’ve continued to follow the changes in scholarship in the world of Orientalist art history and to integrate these changes into this talk. 

“Belly Dance Family Album”

One of the phenomena that I’ve seen happening over my 30+ year involvement in the world of belly dance is the identification of what I like to call the “Belly Dane Family Album.”  This is a loose collection of images that appear on websites, in newsletters, on blog posts (just like this one.)  And of course, we find these images all across social media. We use these images to provide historical context, to illustrate discussions on all sorts of topics, and because they are beautiful and evocative.

The 19th-century segment of this album includes imagery from a variety of sources. These pictures include oil and watercolor paintings, sketches from artist and traveler notebooks, illustrations from published books including encyclopedias, travel memoirs, and guides, as well as reproduction and original etchings in journals and newspapers.

Identifying Images

Many years ago, I decided to make it my low-key mission to make sure that images get properly sourced. Many of us have seen and know by sight these images from their repetition in the Belly Dance Family Album.  My goal is to help share information about the artist and the context in which these images were produced.  Are these great works, good works, or just hacks catering to a hungry art market.  

Another aspect of the web is the notion of relative size.  When looking at a screen, you don’t get a sense of scale. Paintings can vary wildly in size, and understanding how big a painting is can help provide some understanding of the impact of the work on the viewer.  Most orientalist genre paintings were actually quite small, excellent for display and house or home.  We sometimes think that Gerome’s masterpieces are quite large, when in fact, most are equivalent to the size of a modern poster.
Image right: drawing from “Sketches in Egypt” by Charles Dana Gibson c. 1899.

Painter Travelers

While our world is bubbling with conversations about cultural change and evolution, there’s been a sea-change in how Orientalist genre art is collected and presented. In this latest version of this talk, I’ll be sharing the latest scholarship that is impacting how these works are displayed and labeled.  I’ll also be talking about the latest exhibitions, publications, and the new era of collectors. This talk includes a discussion of separating the good from the bad in terms of subject, theme, and the artists themselves.  We will take a look at who are the masters and who are the hacks in our current world.

Visual Documents for History of Dance

And finally, during the last segment of this talk, I’ll be sharing some methods for looking at these works. We’ll discuss approaches for evaluating them not as great works of art, but rather, as documents of the history of our dance.   While we might not know when the first dancer put a sword on her head.  But thanks to the great French artist Gérôme, we know that he witnessed a sword dance during his travels in 1856. 

If all this sounds intriguing and, you can join me and my host Sara Shrapnell for a live 90-minute slide talk, but plan for 2-hours to include the live Q&A discussion. 

Dancers In Orientalist Art – 2021

Sunday, June 20th at Noon Pacific
90 Minute zoom-based slide talk with Q&A
$25 Registration includes
an informative handout and replay access
Hosted by Sara Shrapnell on the BDBA
Reserve your space

Maybe I’ll See You There!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
May 16, 2021

 

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