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Sex_power_and_the_greek_slave_1_[1] - Colleen M Jackson Sex...

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Colleen M. Jackson Sex, Power and the Greek Slave Quoting the art historian Bernard Berenson, Walter Lippmann once wrote, "'what with the almost numberless shapes assumed by an object...What with our insensitiveness and inattention, things scarcely would have for us features and outlines so determined and clear that we could recall them at will, but for the stereotyped shapes art has lent them.' The truth is even broader than that, for the stereotyped shapes lent to the world come not merely from art ... but from our moral codes and our social philosophies and our political agitations as well." [1] There is perhaps no greater a work of art that exemplifies Lippmann's meaning than Hiram Powers' statue The Greek Slave (1844). Received in America with extraordinary fanfare, critical acclaim, and public praise, the sculpture, which toured the United States from 1847 to 1849 [2] , and its positive treatment reveal much about the prevailing social ideologies of the 19th century, for its theme was overwhelmingly didactical in nature. Powers chose for his idealized subject a young Greek woman who had been captured by the Turks during the Greek War of Independence; she stands, head slightly bowed, naked, with her hands manacled to a post. The explosive choice to depict The Slave in the nude, as well as the decision to place her in a specific historical context, make Powers' work paradigmatically important, as such choices elicited dramatic responses from the public, exposing contemporary gender norms as well as a psychosexual cross-section of the nineteenth century American public. However, the reactions to the sculpture are perhaps more fascinating to analyze within the context of the larger cultural proclivity towards Orientalism, a trend which pervaded almost all artistic and literary culture in the West during this time.
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The captivation of American viewers and their overwhelming reactions to Powers' subject's plight of enslavement (as well as the sculpture's subtle undertones of female subjugation and rape) can be interpreted within an Orientalist approach, for such responses unveil an attitude towards Islamic countries and their inhabitants which demeaned them as barbaric, misogynistic, uncivilized heathens. However, contrary to this dominant viewpoint, which served as the ideological basis of justification for much of the 19th century's Colonialist actions, many Western women who traveled to Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries at the time were shocked by the richness of the culture and the amount of freedom their women were afforded. These fierce dichotomies between perception and reality, West and East, slavery and freedom, still present in the 21st century, are symptomatic of the indelible force that seeks to control women's sexuality in all societies around the world. Before a proper analysis of these forces can begin, however, it is necessary to articulate the scope of the Orientalist approach. Edward Said, the critic who developed the theory of Orientalism, defined it as such:
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