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Watch orientalist paintings come to life to drag the colonialist voyeurs

In a reimagining of classic works from art history the hypersexualised women drawn by Western men finally get their perspectives across

30 Apr

They say that life imitates art and that’s exactly what Sis Gurdal does with her dreamy and surreal short entitled Postcards from the Orient. The director and producer tells gal-dem the film “recreated portraits painted by Western [men] artists” to highlight the problematic representation of Middle Eastern women in Orientalist art. 

Around the 19th century, these classic images that gained popularity were actually imitations and depictions of the Eastern world, a distorted view of far-flung lands that largely influenced how they were viewed. As Azeema magazine writes, they imagined scenarios of places they could never have seen like seraglios (a harem where wives and mistresses would live in Muslim households), and have subsequently been seen as patronising to these societies. In viewing them through a colonial lens many of the images lean on lazy tropes: hypersexuality, atypicality and inferiority. 

The familiar pops of reds, silks, and exotic fruit hark back to the portraits of society in the Ottoman Empire, as the women pose for the invisible voyeur. But in contrast with the original fantastical portraits their expressions are pained, there’s discomfort as their mouths are covered, the reclining courtesans look defeated and body parts literally become objects as they’re depicted as stone. In this reimagining, a spoken word piece written by May Ziadé gives a voice to these women and a sense of how they feel being exoticised and exhibited. The painter remains invisible and therefore disarmed while the narrator critiques him as “the man who speaks not our language” who “forgot to probe into the oriels of our souls”.  

Postcards from the Orient has turned heads, earning a nomination for Best Experimental film at Melbourne Short Film Festival and an Honourable Mention Award at Women’s Voices Now Festival. Elsewhere Sis has produced shoots for i-D, Vogue Italia, GQ.

Take a journey through art history via a different lens and watch above.