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Piotr Uklański
Bywater Bros.
Contemporary Art

Supervising editor: Myranda Gillies
Copy editing and proofreading: Brian Sholis
Design: Roger Bywater and Piotr Uklański

The celebrated Polish artist Piotr Uklański established himself in the 1990s, creating a diverse body of work that examines the ever changing relationship between identity, history and culture.

Ottomania presents a historical cross-section of Orientalist themed portraits from the last 500 years inspired by the complex Orientalist heritage of Poland, his country of origin. Uklański’s lushly rendered re-interpretations of a broad range of art historical portraits find the Warsaw-born, New York-based artist expanding his longstanding engagement with questions of nationalist ideologies, representations of masculinity, and personal identity while redressing contemporary suppression of Eastern Europe’s deep and felicitous connections to the Middle East

Prevalent within European society for centuries the appropriation of Eastern culture reached its apex within the 19th century when European adaptation turned the signifiers of the East into easily digested symbols of exotica for Western consumption—images of men in turbans, the pageantry of theatrically embellished masculine dress, richly decorated fabrics, the codification of facial hair and the romantic settings of Ottoman or Persian court life.

Orientalist inspired culture has long been criticized as a prejudiced outsider-interpretation of the Eastern world, inexorably modified by the political attitudes of European imperialism. More recently however, leading scholars have pushed back against this totalizing view explaining that it oversimplifies the “complex processes by which societies engaged, articulated and shaped each other, in multiple and shifting alliances.” Ottomania attempts to highlight these exchanges between East and West, prompted by the legacy of the Polish and Ottoman cultural symbiosis Uklański inherited as a Polish artist.

Appropriating centuries of cultural appropriation itself, Ottomania presents not only an overview of Orientalist portraiture but the inherent theatricality of its subjects, emphasizing details wherein white Europeans deployed their Orientalist fetishes as a form of performative drag in a coded ploy to deviate from the everyday restrictions of class, gender, and sexual norms.

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