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New Beirut Poster Exhibition Spotlights Orientalism in 20th Century Western Films Set in Arab World

Flying carpets, genies and bustling belly dancers tied up in chains.

Babes in Baghdad Movie Poster

Arabian culture has long been an object of fascination and mystification by Western artists. It's seen in books, paintings, and almost every art discipline. The rise of filmmaking in the early 20th century further spread fantasy depictions of Middle East and its history, which is the subject of a new exhibition in Beirut art gallery, Dar El Nimer, which is currently showcasing 108 original movie posters of Western productions set in the Arab world throughout the 20th century.

Titled The Thief of Baghdad, the exhibition seeks the 1924 blockbuster of the same name for inspiration. The classic Hollywood film, itself inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, achieved astounding success, leading to three remakes in 1940, 1961 and 1978. In fact, according to the exhibition's curator, there are more than 55 films made in the 20th century with Baghdad in their name. 

The exhibited pieces truly capture the Orientalist aesthetic at its best, what with flying carpets, genies and bustling belly dancers tied up in chains.

The pieces are owned by Lebanese art collector, Abboudi Abou Joude, who possesses more than 500 movies posters from the 20th century. 

“I think there are three eras,’ he told the National. “The first one is about imagination and the Arab world. In the second, there are many films with singing and dancing set in the Arab world and lots of films about the First and Second World Wars, set in Arab countries. After 1967, it changes. It’s the Arabs as villains."

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