from istanbul: the sequel?

Does history repeat itself? To rewrite the history once more of the Ottoman conquest of the Arab peripheral regions; a manifest destiny to tame, pacify, discipline and civilize the Other from what they regard as tribal savagery and ineptitude. Ottomans in the late 19th century recognized the force of Western Orientalism by absorbing  Europe’s underlying logic of time and progress, while ostensibly resisting  political and colonialist implications, though that proved too tempting to resist their own imperialist urge. Today, once again the ghosts of the Ottoman are being ressurrected, the policeman of the Islamic world at the service of the West or in a spirit of cooperation as equals to solve regional problems …

The Musician Girls.---He was the founder of Istanbul Archaeology Museums and of İstanbul Academy of Fine Arts, known today as the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts. Throughout his professional career as museum and academy director, Osman Hamdi continued to paint in the style of his teachers, Gérôme and Boulanger. Read More:

Again, we see a  manipulation  and preoccupation with a discourse of Islam within the context of  Turkish modernization, distinguished as a compelling response to European misrepresentations of the Islamic East as basically lawless, nomadic and savage. So, Islam in this sense serves to burnish Turkey’s modern historical and cultural difference from the West, as it did in the 19th century, also an era of  widespread westernization.

The Ottoman Empire was the last  Muslim world empire to survive into the modern age, only to be de-legitimized and outflanked by the more aggressive Western European powers.  Modern Turkey then is always a reflex of distinctive characteristics versus colonialist menatality; to reconcile the mentality of the civilizing mission and modernizing agenda with a broader aim of colonizing weaker vassal states into dependent relations. Will today’s Turkey also conflate the ideas of colonializing and modernizing as a means perhaps of surviving against the West and its incessant efforts to export culture, goods and services.

---While the curator explained about the texture and lack of depth of the painting “At the Mosque Door,” and how Osman Hamdi Bey used his likeness and those of his family members for a number of the figures, you could not help but notice that his work not only reveals the traditional life and clothing and an element of class, but also the conflict with imperial and reformist ideas.--- Read More: image:

…”Carpet Seller” is the great Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey’s unique work of art, presenting the contrast between the East and West, representing the last years of “Orientalism” which portrays the colonialism of the industrial West in the “Art of Painting”. Osman Hamdi Bey, who studied art from Gerome in Paris, painted subjects such as the dichotomy of the East and West, love and faith and life and death after he returned to his country. Chandeliers, lecterns, kerosene lamps, incenses and women, the East’s mysticism, its sui generis tranquility and its Western identity under Eastern guise are some of his images that critique the philosophy of the “East.”.

The “Two Musician Girls”, (1880), portrays two young girls, who have to be self-sufficient during their presence in the harem. The attractiveness of the painting arises from the integrated construct of two girls in different positions with two different musical instruments, leaving room for different interpretations and perceptions.

---Black:Turkey is putting up good economic numbers, and flourishing without the militarily imposed corruption that the Kemalist guarantors of secularism wallowed in as the price of preserving modern Turkey. Tiresome though Turkey’s anti-Israel posturing and pandering to the Arabs is, it is hard to begrudge the Turks being toasted and feted as an eminent nation in the Near East and North Africa. They stood, fez in hand, for many demeaning decades on the doorstep of Europe, like King Henry kneeling in the snow before the pope’s window at Canossa, to receive such condescensions as only senior European officials can inflict (on behalf of an EU that has now partially collapsed at Turkey’s feet).--- Read More: image:

Unlike prominent artists like John Fredric Lewis, Sir David Wilkie, William Holman Hunt, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Phillips, Lord Frederic Leigton, Robert Scott Lauder, Henry Willieam Pickersgill, Osman Hamdi Bey portrays an Eastern critiques of “the East”.
In the orieantalist paintings, West’s arrogance about “educating” the East can be discerned easily. Turtles with candles on thier back to light the gardens at celebrations during the Ottomans’ famous Tulip period, which symbolizes the tranquility of the East, is a great source of inspiration for the orieantalists. Osman Hamdi Bey, who worked as an high-ranking officer in various Ottoman educational and cultural institutions, describes the production relations of the West and the East from a different perspective in his famous painting “Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi” (Turtle-tamer). The “tamer”, (Osman Hamdi), is supervising three leaves eating turtles, with reed flute in his hands, tongs on his neck and “keskul-u fikra” (lunch kit) on his back.

Bey. The Turtle Trainer. Read More:

Two other turtles are trying to reach out for the food. “Turtle-tamer” is Osman Hamdi’s bleak satire on the cruelty of the Eastern govenments. What makes this paiting a masterpiece is its simplicity and inexistance of unneccesary details. The work focuses the viewer’s attention on the subject through the use of light emanating from below. Read More:


Hamdi Bey understood the task of Ottomans such as himself to be a struggle both against the fanaticism and ignorance of the local Arab population and against the rapacious and relentless encroachment of Western imperialism. He warned that “it would be a profound mistake to believe that this work of devastation is due, as is commonly repeated, to the fanaticism of the [local] inhabitants. It must be recognized that the true cause lies in the venality and ignorance of the lower classes of the population, both Muslim and Christian, which incessantly are excited and encouraged by foreigners established in this country who have no goal but to traffic widely in antiquities.” Hamdi Bey’s interpretation of the Ottoman past dissociated the imperial classical past represented by Baalbek and the Necropolis of Sidon from the primitive, superstitious, lowly, and religiously confused Arab inhabitants. The former represented a heritage and a platform to demonstrate their modernity—their ability scientifically to excavate, transport, display, and appreciate the artifacts. The latter epitomized backwardness—exploited by selfish Europeans—which threatened to destroy the foundations of the empire. This dissociation between a noble past and a contemporary decline among the Oriental inhabitants—a point at the heart of European Orientalism—was made even more explicit by Hamdi Bey when he traveled to Damascus during his excavations at Sidon. There, he lamented what he called the “decadence of taste” among the inhabitants of Damascus. He mourned the loss of an Islamic heritage and aesthetic in the face of what he saw as blind and vulgar imitation of European style. The result, said Hamdi Bey, was “a sad spectacle of the degeneracy of taste among the peoples of the Orient . . . While there is still time, I advise architects and artists who love beautiful things to hasten to Damascus to admire what is left of the marvels of Islamic art.”
Hamdi Bey believed that Ottoman modernization could succeed only if it preserved some sense of Ottoman difference from the West. He saw native culture as a timeless patrimony that set the Ottoman Empire apart from the West. In other words, anticipating what would become a standard Third World nationalist claim that modern Western science could and should be married to an essential indigenous tradition, Hamdi Bey sought to reconcile Western science and national culture rather than totally to emulate the West. Yet in his understanding of native culture of the Ottoman Empire, be it the Islamic architecture of Damascus or the traditional attire of the various peoples of the Ottoman lands, which he detailed in his Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873 for the Universal Exposition at Vienna, Hamdi Bey articulated a vision of Ottoman modernity that was hierarchical and imperial. He intimated that it was the task of Ottoman modernizers to save Ottoman heritage not just from the West but also from the Oriental peoples of the Ottoman Empire. He proposed to save the Ottoman subjects of the Arab provinces from themselves—both the supposedly indolent majority in need of uplift and the active minority who were blindly imitating European style, which threatened to destroy any sense of Ottoman uniqueness. Read More:
…payment of arrears of salary. In fact, Osman Bey, for that was his name, had been sent to sell decorations to anyone who could afford to pay for them. I asked him what he did with the money that was paid to him, and he told me that he handed it over to the local Government Treasurers who allowed him a percentage for his salary and travelling expenses. The captain said he would like to see some of the decorations, and Osman fetched out of one of his saddle-bags a parcel carefully tied up in a waterproof cover. This contained several small leather-covered boxes, and when he opened some of these we saw they were filled with medals attached to coloured ribbons; whether they were genuine or not I could not say. He told us what expense attended the acquisition of each, and then we learned that each purchaser was expected to make him a little present. Finally he said that the captain and myself ought each to have a nishdn, or decoration, and that he was willing to make special terms in our favour if we had the same opinion; but we had not. I shall never forget the scene of Osman Bey with his dirty face and hands, unkempt, unshaven, with a double row of decorations on his left breast, his trousers torn at the knees and seat, and lacking several buttons, and his broken elastic-sided boots, offering the Orders of the Majidiyah and Osmaniyah for purchase by candlelight in a filthy guardroom at a rest-house in the Damascus Desert. Osman was astir early the next morning to see us start, and as his greatest need seemed to be a smoke I gave him a tin of Capstan and some matches, and we parted on the best of terms. Read More:

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