Orientalism #4

Of course, not all orientalist erotic painting is about race. Partly, it was about Victorian rules about nudity. You could show naked women in a “classical” setting, or you could paint naked women in some other culture, some far-away place.

angieThis painting, for example, is of Angelica chained to a rock, from a scene in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. So if you wanted to do an image of a bound, naked woman, you could do a painting of Angelica or of Andromeda (naked and bound in very similar circumstances), and present your bondage pic as high art. 

But if a Victorian painter made a picture of a naked woman with her hands tied behind her back, waiting for her lover, in a Victorian house, Victorian critics would have lost their shit on a scale that would make Nick Cage’s acting look minimalist.

The woman would have been called a whore, the subject would be damned as utterly indecent and perverted, the painting would certainly be banned from display, and the painter quite possibly prosecuted. So there is a reason apart from racism for Victorian painters to place their pictures of captive, naked women in Eastern, generally Mid-Eastern, settings. 

marketBut a lot seems to rest on the idea that slavery, or being naked and inspected by clothed men, is more intense when the woman is white and the men are not. It’s interesting that there aren’t more examples, in Victorian bondage painting, of naked black women being inspected by clothed white men. Maybe it was too close to home, in a century where the British had been supporting the slave-owning states in the US Civil War.

Maybe Victorian painters thought their audiences wouldn’t find naked black women as sexy as naked white women.  

I’m still working. The Probation Officer story will proceed shortly. 

Orientalism #3

exposeThere are a few things to notice here. For example, the slave woman (dark-haired but white-skinned; possibly meant to be Spanish?) has her hands above her head, with her wrists together. The painter could say, if challenged, that she was flamenco dancing. Maybe. But really she has her wrists together over her head to suggest bondage without actually showing it.

The black woman is also an attractive woman, but she is clothed. Because there’s a dichotomy in these paintings. The naked woman is helpless and enslaved, in the situation. But in the painting she has all the erotic power, and the viewer’s gaze is focussed on her. So the white woman takes the lead sexual role for the painting’s  audience. The black woman may have more power in the situation, knowing the rules better, and perhaps having a training role. But in the painting she  is secondary decoration for the plight of the white woman. That’s what’s important, to the painter and his imagined audience. 

Meanwhile, the non-white (Arab) man watches the slave girl, but he’s perhaps more interested in his opium dreams (note the hookah) than in the woman. Sometimes the woman is humbled in these paintings not by being “indecently” inspected, but by being naked but still ignored. Slave girls: men in the East have so many they can take ’em or leave ’em.

So there’s a dual message: slave girl humiliation, and the idea that the East is decadent and effete, due to fall to a stronger civilisation. Perhaps some muscular, cricket-playing Christian chaps should take their lands off them, says a lot of Orientalist art, and free their slavegirls. After all, those poor girls have been terribly treated: still, they’ll be properly trained and inventively grateful. 

Well, that’s the flip side of every rescuer fantasy.

I’m still working, but I’ve seen the on-coming train poking its refulgent nose into the tunnel. I’m doomed.

Orientalism #2

orientThere are a lot of images on the net, most of them painted in the 19th century, of naked white women slaves being examined by non-white, generally Arabic-looking owners. The images are painted by white men. 

The idea was that a white women is more humiliated by being owned, and seen naked, by non-white men than she would be if the slave-owners and traders were white. Increasing the humiliation of the white woman made the image more erotic for white men.

At least for those white men who liked those images. Clearly, these images were popular and a lot of them were painted, so it wasn’t the taste of a small minority. 


whip suck
Edward Said would have described the picture above as an example of Westerners projecting sexual stereotypes and “forbidden” sexual desires onto figures from “the East”. 

And he’d be right, for all that large chunks of his book Orientalism have been convincingly debunked, particularly by Robert Irwin and Ibn Warraq. 

I just think that it’s not a very comfortable angle for oral sex. From the whipper’s point of view, that is. However, I like the way the woman has been attached to the frame so that her feet can’t touch the ground. It’s disorienting, as Mr Said would never have said. It’s a nice detail. 

Obviously, I don’t have time to do a proper post today. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know.