BBC’s Inside Museums: Orientalism

BBC 3 has started a series called “Inside Museums”. They are short and sweet episodes at 23 mins, maybe a touch TOO short. But if you think this has nothing to do with dancing, think again: their second episode is about that old bugbear: Orientalism.

There is a short but interesting introduction to the concept of Orientalism, origins, and a lot of it discussed over actual art examples. And let me tell you, once you realise where the issue lies, it’s difficult not to start thinking of how it can apply to dancers and teaching.

The program is -ostensibly- headed by a British art critic, but the discussion is carried with a Turkish museum curator and a Turkish female artist. There is a super interesting aside about a Turkish painter who, according to the curator, worked within the confines of the Orientalist movement but used it to transcend the initial limitations and even to maybe criticise the government. There’s looks at painting from the 1600’s to the 1800’s, pointing out how the gaze changes according to the painter and over time, and also interesting looks at female representations, both from the male’s conductor’s point of view, and that of the female artist.

Is this going to be the end all and be all of discussion of Orientalism? Absolutely not, you can’t do that on 23 minutes (for comparison, the audiobook version of Said’s book is nineteen hours long). But if you’ve come across the term and weren’t sure what it was about, or could not really “see” why it could be problematic, maybe having some paintings now housed at the Pera Museum in Istanbul might help

Also interesting to note is what is talked about (the sexualisation and exotization of the East), and what is *not* talked about (like how in the more titilating harem fantasy images a lot of the women look Western european, and the non-western women look almost like stereotypical to the point of caricature).

Head over to to watch if you’re in the UK. You should be able to find it in BBC America too.
You can view some of the paintings from the Pera Museum at their website (opens in a new tab) although the most egregious examples including Harem fantasies are not on the website.

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