From the 1600s to the early 1900s “the Orient” was a magical phrase, conjuring up a world of intoxicating perfumes and saturated colors, sensuous women and violent men. Today, there’s a more sophisticated understanding of the people and cultures of North Africa and the Middle East. However, Orientalist stereotypes from the height of European Colonialism persist on stage.
Designs and illustrations from the McNay’s theatre collection show the appeal of Orientalism from Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio and Rimsky- Korsakov ballet Schéhérazade to a music hall version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Editions of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley and André Derain, provide historical context for Jim Dine’s opera designs.
Rare books, some from as early as the 1500s, demonstrate European fascination with the clothing and customs of the former Persian and Ottoman empires. The lavish illustrations underscore Europe’s and America’s debts to the Middle East and North Africa, as well as differences that continue to divide cultures.