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Cycle de conférences « Magie des arts de l’Islam »

Finland French Institute Opens Up Debate on Islamic Art and Its Influence

Auteur :Hamza Amarouche, 21 November 2013

Publication :  Finnbay 21.11.2013


The French Institute in Finland together with the French cultural agency ICLEA has organised a conference about Islamic arts and its influence on the Western civilization in the 19th century on Tuesday 12 November.

The conference was organized in partnership with the Moroccan and Tunisian embassies.

“The East in West’s dream” was the theme of the conference and Assia Salah, who is an art historian specializing in Islamic art, moderated the conference.

Salah ignited the event by evoking an era from visits of French artists to Northern Africa during the 19th century.

The historian presented a set of portraits by French romantic and realistic artists about cultural and social life in North African societies in the middle of 19th century.

Salah said, “This cooperation is outstanding and promising for many future projects.” After the French occupation in North Africa and Middle East, number of artists, architects, geographers, and even soldiers moved there to explore, draw or photograph these masterpieces.

In their awake, a literary and artistic movement was born later on.

It was then a rush to the East looking for a myth which finally would be created by Western people themselves. That was so-called “Orientalism”. ”The orientalists were inspired by literature, namely the Romantic literature and Travel literature. Their travels pushed them to import new things to their societies”, Salah explained.

First, she introduced some realistic artists, such as Eugène Delacroix (1807-1863), Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856) and Eugène Giraud (1806-1881).

The second part of the presentation was devoted to Realistic Artists such as Abel Félix Lauwich (1823-1886) who had made precious paintings namely one about an Algerian Jew woman in Algiers.

Paintings of Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860), Jose Tapiro Y Baro (1836-1913), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), and Henri Regnault (1843-1871) were projected as well. According to Salah, the conference was important to show that French painters in the 19th century had made crucial works which made others to be interested in North Africa (the Great Maghreb).

“‘I tried to evoke Islamic art based on three different views. First, I talk about the history of text such as the history of “One Thousand and One Night”. This is important in revealing a civilization. Then I talk about its architecture. Gardens were important references as architectural items in Islamic civilization. This was exclusive in Northern Africa and in Andalusia. Finally, I emphasize the influence of orientalism, especially right after the translation of 1001 nights in 1704”.

French Institute

Salah thinks the collectors such as Albert Goupil in Paris and Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil in Cairo during the 20th century played an important role in today’s politics.

The museum of Louvre Abu Dhabi aims at bringing precious masterpieces of the West to the East. ”The museum is a chance for both East and West to share their cultural heritage of orientalism”, she stated.

In response to a question about origins of Orientalism, Salah said: “The orientalism was not a fixed term. Rather, it was related to studies, thoughts and inspiration, which came out from travels to the East throughout many years. Also, it took its major ideas from variety of literature”.


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