Middle East Americana Exhibit at Powell Rotunda Showcases Popular Fiction, Accounts of Iraq War
Exhibit focuses on books and magazines spanning more than a century up to the present day.
Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2006
"American Orientalism shows how the Middle East figures in the American imagination. Its careful consideration may begin to explain the very complicated -- and often tragic -- relationship between the US and the Middle East."
Back by popular demand, material culture from the Middle Eastern Americana Collection housed in the UCLA Young Research Library Department of Special Collections is on display from November 6, 2006 through January 12, 2007 in the Powell Library Rotunda where it was exhibited a year earlier. While the 2005 show, titled Seducing America: Selling the Middle Eastern Mystique, presented elements from all parts of the collection, including examples of American Orientalist music, film, consumer products, print items and ephemera, the current exhibit, titled Tales of the Imagination: The Middle East in American Popular Fiction, focuses exclusively on books and magazines spanning more than a century up to the present day.
Poster for the exhibit
Confrontation involving Americans and Middle Easterners is a theme of many paperback novels on display harking back to an earlier age when the Middle East was a premier destination in spy novels and thrillers, raunchy adventure magazines, graphic pulp fiction and comics, as well as romance novels in the Harlequin genre. Lest we forget, the Arabian Nights were the adventure tales par excellence for generations of Americans, popularized in colorfully illustrated books for children and adults since the late nineteenth century. The ongoing armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf account for a sizable trove of publications by soldiers, family members back home, military commanders, policy makers, scholars, and journalists, blurring the lines between personal anecdotes, news and history. A selection of some one hundred print items from the collection donated by CNES Assistant Director Jonathan Friedlander underscores the continuing appeal and impact of this body of popular literature in the annals of Americana.
Reaction to the first exhibition and to the project as a whole has been outstanding, drawing glowing reviews from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Al Jadid Magazine and a host of newspapers and websites worldwide. Viewers were challenged to reflect on the volume of Middle Eastern Americana presented. "American Orientalism shows how the Middle East figures in the American imagination. Its careful consideration may begin to explain the very complicated--and often tragic--relationship between the US and the Middle East," said Lorraine Pratt, an Islamic Studies doctoral student who is cataloging and annotating the collection. Art historian Connie Fitzsimons of El Camino College observed that the material provides "ample evidence of Orientalism's continuing hold on our contemporary imagination and dispels any misguided notion that Orientalism was simply a passing fad."