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Displaying The Orient: Architecture Of Islam At Nineteenth-century World's Fairs
by Zeynep Celik
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L'Illustration, 20 July 1867
"Dreamers of travels, those who are attached by the short chain of their jobs and who dream of excursions on the banks of the Nile or the Bosphorus . . . now have no reason to complain. If they cannot go to the Orient, the Orient has come to them."
Gathering architectural pieces from all over the world, the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867 introduced to fairgoers the notion of an imaginary journey, a new tourism en place. Through this and similar expositions, the world's cultures were imported to European and American cities as artifacts and presented to nineteenth-century men and women as the world in microcosm, giving a quick and seemingly realistic impression of distant places.
Çelik examines the display of Islamic cultures at nineteenth-century world's fairs, focusing on the exposition architecture. She asserts that certain sociopolitical and cultural trends now crucial to our understanding of historical transformations in both the West and the world of Islam were mirrored in the fair's architecture. Furthermore, dominant attitudes toward cross-cultural exchanges were revealed repeatedly in Westerners' responses to these pavilions, in Western architects' interpretations of Islamic stylistic traditions, and in the pavilions' impact in such urban centers.
Although the world's fairs claimed to be platforms for peaceful cultural communication, they displayed the world according to a hierarchy based on power relations. Çelik's delineation of this hierarchy in the exposition buildings enables us to understand both the adversarial relations between the West and the Middle East, and the issue of cultural self-definition for Muslim societies of the nineteenth century.
About the Author
Zeynep Çelik is Associate Professor of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the author of The Remaking of Istanbul (Washington, 1986).
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