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Breaking the Stereotype

Oriental and Occidental Stereotypes in the Course of Time

The exhibition project „Breaking the Stereotype" has been initiated by the cultural studies focus „Kulturen im Kontakt/ Cultures in Contact" which has been installed officially at Leopold-Franzens-University of Innsbruck by January 1, 2007. The three-stage project has been planned for the period of 2007-2009/2010.


The exhibition project „Breaking the Stereotype" deals with the connotative changes in the ways Orient and Occident have been mutually stereotyped from a cultural studies point of view. The exhibition aims at documenting the products of stereotyping as well as the mechanisms active in the stereotyping processes and their partial rooting in the cultural system of Orientalism, which has been analyzed by Edward W. Said, and at opening them to de-construction. Therefore the exhibition contrasts the representations of cultural perception concerning the Orient and the Occident against the representations of Oriental and Occidental self-perception as they appear in literature, the media and every day life in order to break the stereotypes. In order to differentiate the problem even further the representations of cultural perception are contrasted against the perception-in return of this perception by the people living in the Eastern Mediterranean and by the migrant perspective on this point.


As the exhibition aims at opening as many aspects of stereotyping to de-construction as possible it presents a well balanced mixture of research findings on the exhibition topic, audiovisual adaptations of research findings and artistic approaches to the exhibition topic. By including the arts into the exhibition also the soft (atmospheric) aspects of Oriental and Occidental stereotyping are considered in terms of de-construction in addition to the hard (factual) aspects of stereotyping.


It is crucial to mind that stereotypes will not to be analyzed on grounds of evaluating whether they are true or false, right or wrong, within the exhibition context. Stereotypes are rather seen as generalizations and simplifications of what has been encountered individually. Stereotypes are products of intellectual modelling. They are not true or false. They do not oppose what is defined as reality so ever. They rather reduce what is perceived as reality by its varieties and details in order to make individual perception processes more efficient. This is particularly true of cultural perception and cultural representation, although cultural self-perception may also be open to stereotyping.

Stereotyping opens ways of categorizing perception and representation processes aiming at defining one's „Other" and one's „Self". In this process the relevant criterion is how well people are able to identify with what they perceive in terms of cultural input, and how well they identify with their cultural „Self". Resulting from this, stereotypes can be divided into positive and negative ones. However, positive stereotypes are hardly considered stereotypes whereas negative stereotypes are. Idyllizing, idealizing and romanticizing representations therefore find their way into cultural self-perception and self-representation whereas negative stereotyping (depreciatory, disparaging, demonizing, stigmatizing, criminalizing representations) keeps restricted to the cultural perception and representation of the „Other". Nevertheless, even positively connotated stereotyping may turn into its opposite if integrated into an intellectual model of overriding importance.


Such an intellectual model in terms of stereotyping the Orient by the Occident is the system of Orientalism as defined by Edward W. Said. The term „Orientalism" stands for one culture executing power over another one. Stereotyping is a factor in executing power over cultures different from your own. The exhibition takes this aspect into account by using Edward W. Said's terminology and definition of Orientalism in those fields where they are relevant in terms of deconstructing the stereotypes given.


Edward W. Said has pointed out that the concepts of the „Occident" and the „Orient" in their opposing qualities have been deliberately designed by occidental minds. According to Said, the Orient has been assigned the part of the „Other", or rather: the inferior „Other", within this opposition. The latter has been put into perspective by literary historical research on individual European national literatures and by feminist research. Said‘s central point of understanding the two concepts as products of occidental intellectual modelling, however, has remained unquestioned.


As both the Occidental and the Oriental concept and the products of stereotyping are to be understood as intellectual working models both are subjects to changing cultural environments. Consequently, they have not been stable but have kept changing in the course of time.


In illustrating the quality of these changes in stereotyping the Orient and the Occident the exhibition starts off with present stereotyping and moves on to more historical ones.


As the exhibition concept is based on reciprocity it is self-evident that in working on the exhibition issues university and non-university institutions and organizations at Innsbruck and Salzburg (Leopold-Franzens-University of Innsbruck and Salzburg based GenderLink) will closely cooperate with colleagues/ partners at university and non-university institutions and organisations in those geographical regions having been defined as „the Orient" by Occidental thinking. Currently these are colleagues at Boğazici University, Istanbul; Kadir Has University, Istanbul; Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir; Ege University, Izmir; Notre Dame University, Beirut. Further cooperating partners and participants to the project are highly welcome. The project has been supported by the Austrian Ministry of Science, the Austrian Culture Forum at Istanbul and the Austrian Culture Forum at Rome.

As the exhibition aims at highlighting the varieties of self-perception and self-representation (regional/ ethnic varieties, religious/ denominational varieties, ideological/ political varieties, migrants perspectives) the exhibits chosen to illustrate these varieties will be contrasted against exhibits which illustrate the relevant aspects of cultural perception of the Other, of the perception-in-return of this perception by the people living in the Eastern Mediterranean and by the migrant perspective on this point.

The exhibits are designed, produced, collected and selected by the contributors (for instance in student workshops etc.). The contributors are free to use photos which have been shot by themselves, creative combinations (collages) of photos, texts, statistics etc., texts of fiction and non-fiction (or parts of such texts), book covers (with historical pieces: digital photos of the covers), advertising materials (posters, catalogues, leaflets, brochures etc), film clips (in case there are no copyright restrictions), video tapes of interviews with researchers presenting and discussing their findings on the exhibition topic, video clips, readings by authors (live or as DVD-clips), computer animations, reproductions of historical prints/ illustrations etc. to create their exhibits. All exhibits will be forwarded to the exhibition organisers together with a text both in German or English and the native language (Turkish or Arabic; as a Microsoft-word-for-windows file, current version) which gives all necessary information on the exhibit (including background information), and has been authorized by the contributors to be used in the exhibition.