A lecture by Ünver Rüstem, Assistant Professor, History of Art, Johns Hopkins University
Although the nineteenth century is widely regarded as a period in which the West’s vision of the Islamic world was mired in Orientalist fantasy, the Ottoman Empire, together with other Eastern polities, did much to counter such exoticization. Costume in particular emerged as a powerful tool by which the Ottomans could shape their international image, as exemplified by the famous photographic album of traditional dress that was created for the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair with the intention of demonstrating the empire’s cosmopolitanism and territorial reach. Rüstem's talk will address the impact of such sartorial self-representation as it played out in two museums of Ottoman costume established in the 1850s, one in Istanbul and the other in London. Each consisting of dozens of lifelike mannequins wearing outdated traditional garb, these museums coopted visual strategies associated with Orientalism and repurposed them to present a corrective and positive view of the Ottomans and their culture. At its most effective, this reclaiming of an “Oriental” identity underscored, rather than undermined, the Ottoman Empire’s status as a modern world power, though the thematic overlap between these self-assertive sartorial displays and the art of Orientalism presented a continual challenge to their intended message.