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Painting, Photography and the Long Duration of History in Osman Hamdi’s Paintings

Painting, Photography and the Long Duration of History in Osman Hamdi’s Paintings

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

5:30 PM–6:30 PM
The Clark
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Dear Past Fellows and Friends of the Research and Academic Program,

Although all of the public programs and seminars for RAP are cancelled until at least September 1, in honor of our regular Tuesday evening lectures, every Tuesday going forward we will share a lecture from a previous season. Typically, we do not make these lectures available on our website as we recognize that they are works in progress, and we want to give our fellows the freedom to intellectually experiment. Many of our past fellows, however, have generously allowed us to share their lecture recordings, accompanied by brief reflections or updates on the project they undertook during their time at the Clark. We shared our first lecture in this series, from Susan Sidlauskas, on "John Singer Sargent and the Matter of Paint," last week. All RAP in the Archives lectures will be available on the Clark website after they are released each week.

This new program is a promise for the future moment when once again we will be able to gather in the Manton auditorium. We share these lectures so that we may remember what fellowship means in this time of fear, uncertainty, and loss.

Yours,
Caro

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Gülru Çakmak, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Florence Gould Foundation Fellow (Fall 2018)
“Painting, Photography and the Long Duration of History in Osman Hamdi’s Paintings”
Originally presented on October 16, 2018


Beginning in the 1880s, the Ottoman painter, museum director, archaeologist, and bureaucrat Osman Hamdi (1842–1910) undertook a series of paintings that depicted imposing, historical, and invariably fictitious mosque façades. This lecture discusses At the Mosque Door (1891), one of the later paintings in the series. At first sight a seemingly straightforward genre scene showing a cluster of everyday “types” gathered in front of a mosque façade, the painting in fact implements a much more ambitious program. The façade is an invention on Hamdi's part: in its carefully constructed and stratified architectural, epigraphic, and decorative layers, its function is to thematize the evolution of civilizations over the duration of deep time. The figures in the painting are depicted in imitation of a variety of photographic genres. Through them, the painting engages not only with street and studio photography of its time, but also with contemporaneous scientific experimentations utilizing the medium, specifically Eadweard Muybridge's locomotion studies and chronophotography technique developed by the French physician Étienne-Jules Marey. As such, Hamdi's work reflects deeply on the possibilities and limitations of painting in opposition to photography, and proposes painting as the quintessential medium that can make visible the long duration of history underlying the present moment. If photography is essentially an analytic device that can dissect the here-and-now of nature, painting is the superior medium of synthesis that can reveal nature as history, signaling exponentially longer historical processes otherwise invisible to the observing individual.
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An Update from Gülru Çakmak

The paper I delivered at the Clark became the kernel of a book on Hamdi and late Ottoman modernity that I am currently working on. The conversations I had after the lecture and the subsequent seminar gathering at the Research and Academic Program were crucial in propelling me to further explore Hamdi's quest to reveal the deep structures of history, those long-term cultural, biological, and geological processes that constitute the present. I am deeply grateful to my fellow Fall 2018 Clark Fellows Mark Wigley, Beatriz Colomina, Frédéric Ogée, Doron Bauer, and Jill Casid, as well as seminar participants Michael Ann Holly, Keith Moxey, Marc Gotlieb, and Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen, for a tremendously stimulating and fruitful discussion. The idyllic work conditions offered during my fellowship were thanks to the tone of warm collegiality and unflinching support extended by Caro Fowler and Olivier Meslay.

Gülru Çakmak
Associate Professor of Nineteenth-Century Art, and Graduate Program Director 
Department of the History of Art & Architecture 


University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Next Up in the Archives

April 14: Jill Casid, “Necrolandscaping on the Border”
April 21: Spyros Papapetros, “The Prearchitectonic Condition: Architecture Before Architecture”
April 28: Shira Brisman, “The Provisionality of Sixteenth-Century Designs”

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