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Curatorial Statement

Orientalist painting was one of the many genres of 19th century art. Edward Said drew the concept of Orientalism into the center of contention in the 1970s with his book Orientalism. Said used the term to launch a critique of Western representations of the East, arguing that the ‘Orient’ is a ‘creation of the West’ to reinforce and justify Western power over the East. Linda Nochlin was one of the first art historians to apply Orientalism into the discipline of art history. In Nochlin’s groundbreaking paper The Imaginary Orient, she argues that "orientalist art is a type of representational art depicting the Oriental society as static, undeveloped, irrational, and exotic, thereby fabricating a view of Oriental culture that can be studied and civilized. Whereas, the Occidental society was developed, rational, flexible, and superior."

 

Drawing on the theory of Orientalism, Perspectives of an Outsider is an exhibition featuring four volumes of rare books from the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney --- China Illustrated by Thomas Allom. Thomas Allom (1804-1872) was a well-known British illustrator in the 19th Century. China Illustrated was first published by Fisher Son & Co. in 1845 in London. There are 75 steel engravings of original sketches of Chinese social habits, scenery and architectures drawn by Thomas Allom. Although there has been no concrete evidence showing that Thomas Allom had travelled to China, his illustrations may be based on the works of other artists such as Lieutenant Frederick White and Captain James Stoddart. Orientalism shaped how Allom depicted things and what Allom understood about the Chinese society. Exploring ‘what’ Thomas Allom was fascinated with and analysing ‘how’ he depicted Chinese social life, this exhibition showcases 19th century China from an outsider’s perspective and demonstrates Orientalism in art. Outsiders’ perspectives can be incisive while sometimes being prejudiced by discrimination and biases. Furthermore, rethinking Orientalism in art, this exhibition also aims to highlight the importance of cultural diversity and advocate respect for cultural uniqueness.

China Illustrated by Thomas Allom in the Fisher Library of the University of Sydney 

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