If...

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Up till then Oriental studies had, in the main, been conducted by examining texts and objects at home. The ‘fieldwork’ carried out by Napoleon’s savants was to filter into society generating, amongst other things, an Egyptomania in interior decoration, furniture and clothing.

 

Ponger uses photography here to investigate the stereotypes of Orientalist images which were generated during colonialist expansion and which persist into the present. Thus our (warranted) awe at the remnants of an ancient civilization and the iconographic effect of the Sphinx and Pyramids is thoroughly de-constructed with the almost one-dimensional rendering of historic monuments in a film studio taken from the back. History constructed to fit in a frame and intended to be viewed from one specific angle. Taken from the ‘wrong angle’ in Media City in Cairo, it contests the almost seamless reality between film sets and the Western construction of “the mysterious Orient.” The theme is also addressed in the harem scene (also in Media City).

 

If I was. Normally the words are followed by an aspiration, a wish - to be rich, famous, taller, thinner - or some unreachable dream - Superman, Catwoman or fill in any household name from the world of film, politics, business. Ponger’s wishes are however, much more specific and she has done something about them. Thus If I was an Orientalist Today is a work group that glances backwards into art history, into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when peripatetic painters roamed the Middle East and bringing back work laid down in oils and watercolours. The movement was not limited to one nation; the painters came from many different backgrounds and were motivated by a number of divergent interests. Their initial interest had been stimulated by the ancillary consequences of Napoleon’s militarily unsuccessful campaign in Egypt which was accompanied by all manner of scientists and Orientalists. The configuration of military might and scientific safety here would be repeated throughout colonial history.