This page is currently coalescing / being written...
I wanted to be part of this project to engage more deeply with Wilde’s notions and ideas about art and beauty, and particularly with the imagery in his play Salome, written in 1891. My own work explores Orientalism, ornament and the body.
Ornament has complex ways of meaning across different cultures. For Wilde beauty was vital, but ornament was also emotion and meaning, not just superficial decoration. The creative imagination was key to meaningful art, not just copying nature. The flat ornamental space free of perspective that Wilde said he longed to sit in, is in fact a multi-dimensional world of touch, concept and feeling. These are ideas that excite and interest me.
I am also intrigued by cross-cultural entanglements, being one myself. Oscar Wilde was very progressive. He thought about racial prejudice, he explored the art of other cultures, he quoted a Muslim’s opinion on decoration. He was of course affected by the notions of his time – the late 1800’s when British colonialism was on the rise. He loved beautiful so called Eastern or ‘oriental’ things but he was also aware of himself looking at them as an outsider. Perhaps his status as an outsider himself allowed him to take a step back and see the prejudices in society against those who did not conform. So Salome is not straightforwardly an orientalist play.
The beautiful and complex Salome: A Tragedy in One Act has always intrigued me. My name is Salma, but had I been born into a Jewish family instead of a Muslim one, my name might have been Salome. Several characters in the play would have been regarded as exotic and strange at that time – the Jewess Salome, the Syrian Narraboth, the Nubian, the Slave, the ‘negro’ executioner.
Looking is a very dangerous thing in Salome. The forbidden or taboo gaze or the strange gaze seems to me to be at the heart of the play. It is utterly fascinating. The ornamental language Wilde uses communicates these deep and complex meanings.
There is also a rich and beautiful imagery of the moon, and a contrasting of the colours black and white. I wanted to make a dramatic theatrical and beautiful lily that worked with the imagery of the play, yet also explored the notion of the gaze that falls on those who are different without seeing them. In this work for me personally there is a message about looking at others, especially others from other cultures. Can we ever really see them? Or do we gaze at them as if into a mirror and only see our own desires reflected back?
I am working with 300 gsm rough watercolour paper, collage, gold pigment, Indian ink, watercolour, graphite and wire. Around a tiny moon mirror dance little Middle Eastern slippers, referencing the dance of the seven veils and notions of exoticism and orientalism.