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Unknown Venetian artist, The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511, Louvre. The deer with antlers in the foreground is not known ever to have existed in the wild in Syria.

In art history, literature and cultural studies, Orientalism is the imitation or depiction of aspects in the Eastern world.


  • By the law of contraries, I look for an irresistible taste for Orientalism in Britain. For a self-conceited modish life, made up of trifles, clinging to a corporeal civilization, hating ideas, there is no remedy like the Oriental largeness. That astonishes and disconcerts English decorum. For once, there is thunder it never heard, light it never saw, and power which trifles with time and space. I am not surprised to find an Englishman like Warren Hastings, who had been struck with the grand style of thinking in the Indian writings, deprecating the prejudices of his countrymen while offering them a translation of the Bhagavat Gita.
    • source: English Traits, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • Although our countries have been changed by the hegemonizing influences of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, the headlines in the Western media have always reduced matters of extraordinary depth and complexity to a mere snapshot, which more often than not has catered to an orientalist audience that regards Arab or Muslim cultures as backward and to security-focused policymakers. Over time, those two groups have worked to reinforce each other, merging to such an extent that everything was viewed through the prism of the security of the West, especially after 9/11. Even now, as cities like Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria struggle to overcome the emotional and physical destruction wrought by ISIS, even as whole communities like the Yazidis, a Kurdish ethnic minority, have been decimated by genocide and rape at the hands of ISIS militants, even as Bashar al-Assad continues to kill, torture, and bomb his people, the headlines in the Western media seem focused almost exclusively on the Europeans and Americans who joined the ranks of the militants, on whether they should be allowed back home or stripped of citizenship and what should happen to their wives and children.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.
  • The Orient that appears in Orientalism, then, is a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire. ... The Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe.
    • Edward Said, Orientalism. 1978
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