This article is part of my research ‘Orientalism Revisited’ in which I question the representation of the East in the West, and explore the value of Orientalism as a genre for contemporary artists. The contemporary western art world is reluctant to consider the Orient as an artistic subject. Trying to dissociate Orientalism and its connotation with western imperialism remains a difficult and delicate matter. Moreover, the current political instability and the distrust of Islamic culture only complicate the situation. In addition to these ideological reasons, formal elements are responsible for the decline of interest in Orientalist art as well. The iconography of the nineteenth-century Orientalist painters is characterised by exotic fantasies expressed in exuberant colours, resulting in stereotypical images. The power of the Orient as an artistic subject does not reside in creating a twenty-first-century sequel to this imagery, but in representing the Orient through sensory impressions based on the perceptions of the artist.
While travelling in the Middle East, I reconsider the Orient as a source of artistic inspiration. At the moment I am residing in Istanbul, the bridge between East and West, a city balancing between two different worlds.
In this project I explore the cemeteries of Istanbul. Walking through the cemeteries is in a certain way walking through art history. Cemeteries offer a subtler version of the exotic East, and are the only places that still breathe the Orient of the past. You recognise elements and scenes of Orientalist paintings, which makes you perceive your surroundings in a different light. The cemeteries make you look at the paintings in another way as well and give insight in the way the Orientalist artists look at these environs.
This is one reason why I like strolling through Ottoman cemeteries in Istanbul, but my walks are of a more direct use for my own artistic practice as well. At a certain point you have to let go of the route the orientalists laid out for you, and look at your surroundings without their loaded contexts; empty-minded. When you forget about the orientalist frame, the opposition between East and West, the threatening urban development projects, religion, death,… you may see things that strike you as an artist: the pointy shape of the gravestones echoed in the minarets, in the cypresses and in the skyscraper in the distance; the lemon squeezer-shaped domes and beautifully sculptured headstones of the graves changing colour in harmony with the hour of day; the white marble on the ground and salmon pink walls fertilizing the green colour of some exotic-shaped greenery; …
The Oriental cemeteries have a great deal to offer the artists that draw inspiration from their surroundings. These impressions should be formulated before they vaporise, in words, drawings, photographs,… as a means to extend the artist's visual archive. Istanbul's graveyards – where the tombs are a reminder of the transience of life – are places that at the same time help me pause this transience; by recording sensations artistically. Dwelling in cemeteries makes me a more eloquent artist, help me call a halt to volatility.
I present the cemeteries through my own written impressions, travel literature, old photographs, orientalist artworks, and my own images. I use my archive to make associations; thematic, verbal and visual. This associative method is part of my artistic research in which I want to present my impressions of the Orient as a freely expanding musical composition.