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What Is Russian Orientalism?

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Tea and coffee available from 16:45

This lecture examines the applicability of Edward Said’s theories to Russia about “Orientalism” as a hegemonic device. The focus will be a painter and a composer whose works were created in the late nineteenth century, at a time of tsarist conquest in Central Asia. After a brief survey of how Russian Orientalism fits into the broader framework of Said’s ideas about culture and colonialism, I will examine the war painter Vasilli Vereshchagin’s “Turkestan Series,” a group of canvases executed in the early 1870’s, shortly after the artist participated in the campaign against Samarkand. I will contrast Vareshchagin’s portrayal of tsarist small wars against the Islamic khanates with Aleksandr Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. While based on a thirteenth-century medieval epic about an unsuccessful campaign against steppe nomads, the opera can also be read as a metaphor for the tsarist march into Turkestan. The lecture will be accompanied by slides as well as musical clips.

This talk is part of the CamCREES seminars (Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) series.

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