241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Harem), 2012, oil on linen,152.5 x 112cm.

Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta Collection, Nomas Foundation, Rome.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk, installation view.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Blow), 2012, oil on paper, 30.5 x 22.9cm.

Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta Collection, Nomas Foundation, Rome.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, Cushion No.3 (Portrait of Eliza), 2013, 4 velvet cushion, 4 satin cushions,

tassel, cord, trimmings, iron. 120 x 45 x 45cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk, installation view.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Bang Bang), 2013, oil on canvas, 200 x 270cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, Curtain No.10 (Portrait of Emily Barlow), 2013. Triple pleat pinch,
inverted box pleats on duchess satin, tassels, trimmings, wood. 200 x 270cm.
Thanks to Peter Pilotto Fashion House.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk, installation view, Gasworks

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Haberdashery), 2013, oil on canvas, 200 x 270cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, Cushion No.4 (Portrait of Eli, Sultan of Algeri), 2013, 10 cotton cushions,

8 velvet cushions, tassel, cord, trimmings, iron. 250 x 50 x 50cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Harem), 2012, oil on linen,152.5 x 112cm.

Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta Collection, Nomas Foundation, Rome.

The Lustful Turk is a pre-Victorian erotic novel published in England in 1828, written in the form of a correspondence between the heroine, Emily Barlow, and her friend, Sylvia Carey. While sailing to India, Emily is kidnapped by Moorish pirates and is forced into the harem of Ali, dey of Algiers. Although initially resistant, Ali awakens her sexuality and she willingly indulges herself in sodomy, a great taboo in England of the time. When Ali tricks Emily’s pen pal, Sylvia, into coming to Algiers and entrapping her in his harem, a similar sexual awakening occurs. However, Slylvia refuses sodomy, resulting in her vicious dismembering of Ali’s penis. Emasculated, Ali sends the women back to England. Emily returns home carrying Ali’s amputated phallus with her, conserved in a jar of spirits.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Harem), 2012, oil on linen,152.5 x 112cm.

Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta Collection, Nomas Foundation, Rome.

The following text is taken from a conversation between the artist Patrizio di Massimo and Robert Leckie in October 2013:

I first came across The Lustful Turk while reading Edward Said’s Orientalism – a foundational work of postcolonial theory, as you know – during my MA at Slade School of Fine Art in 2009.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk, installation view.

Edward Said makes reference to The Lustful Turk – a work of epistolary erotica published anonymously in England in 1828 – which he describes as a “black book” of Western Orientalism. Intrigued, I quickly bought a reprinted edition online. When first flicking through, I found it to be a very curious document. American academic Steven Marcus lucidly describes it as something like [paraphrasing] “a condensation of the stereotypes that the West produced about the Orient.” But its erotic, Oriental staging also fascinated me – you could say that I participated in the writer’s fascination. And I did this despite having originally encountered the book through Said, knowing therefore that it as deeply oriented in the ill-informed authority of Western “knowledge” about the Orient.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Blow), 2012, oil on paper, 30.5 x 22.9cm.

Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta Collection, Nomas Foundation, Rome.

Photo: Matthew Booth

After discovering The Lustful Turk book, I questioned for a long while what form my engagement would take. I began roughly three years ago, while reading it, to do some drawings, which I never exhibited. I was in residence at the time at De Ateliers in Amsterdam and I remember trying to describe the project to some tutors and peers. My ideas then were admittedly very vague and while some of them found it a very intriguing prospect, others insisted that I shouldn’t pursue the subject and so I didn’t.

It wasn’t until some years later that I returned to the idea after receiving an invitation from Alessandro Rabottini to present a solo show at Villa Medici in Rome.

Patrizio Di Massimo, Cushion No.3 (Portrait of Eliza), 2013, 4 velvet cushion, 4 satin cushions,

tassel, cord, trimmings, iron. 120 x 45 x 45cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

The path leading to that exhibition was rough and frustratingly slow. Looking back, I think I had three main difficulties: how not to banalise such a loaded subject, how to translate such an interpretation into painting, and how to “follow” the text, or not.

I think that reworking the cultural production of the past can encourage us to re-think what, where and how we have been before, culturally. And although The Lustful Turk may not be of interest to some, we all continue to be influenced by the way in which Western empires deformed the relationships between countries during the colonial period. The astonishingly simplistic and dichotomous relationships between East and West, so grotesquely portrayed in the book, are still politically relevant today and the fetishisaton of the Orient also persists. For the writer of The Lustful Turk the Orient was the place to imagine a series of sexual encounters that weren’t permitted in pre-Victorian England. For us, opening a space for debate about the representation of sexual desires and practices in the Arab world is I think crucial to our understanding of that culture.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Haberdashery), 2013, oil on canvas, 200 x 270cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

When I started this project thought a lot about what position I should take. I could have, for instance, proceeded with moralistic judgement and political correctness, seeing the book as nothing more than an emblem of a retrograde and “racist”” culture, or otherwise I could have reiterated the author’s highly questionable motive, weaving my work into his, unquestioningly. But neither path felt like mine, and so I eventually realised that all I wanted was to somehow bring this topic to the table and do it in my own way.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk (Bang Bang), 2013, oil on canvas, 200 x 270cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

In this sense I don’t consider my project to be a replication or re-staging of the book – I see it more as a proposition regarding how entrenched we still are in our past cultural heritage. My referencing the book also serves primarily to emphasise the connection between the Orientalist tradition and sexual desire, which I believe remains an interesting lens through which to pick apart our relationship to the “Other” nowadays, no matter how problematic and ambiguous that relationship may be.

Patrizio Di Massimo, Cushion No.4 (Portrait of Eli, Sultan of Algeri), 2013, 10 cotton cushions,

8 velvet cushions, tassel, cord, trimmings, iron. 250 x 50 x 50cm.

Photo: Matthew Booth

I didn’t want to detach the project from the illustrative tradition… I didn’t want my work to follow the narrative of the book page by page, with my images responding, secondarily, to particular passages of text. As far as I understand it, painting has always referred to literary sources historically, whether the bible or Greek myths, and my work looks for contemporary “ways in” to this kind of art-making. So that’s why I wanted to embrace illustration and to understand my work as continuing that tradition… These images are illustrative, but I also like to think that they can stand up on their own.

Patrizio Di Massimo, Curtain No.10 (Portrait of Emily Barlow), 2013. Triple pleat pinch,
inverted box pleats on duchess satin, tassels, trimmings, wood. 200 x 270cm.
Thanks to Peter Pilotto Fashion House.

Photo: Matthew Booth

Imagining the harem interior, I became particularly interested in elements of décor – cushions, curtains, tassels, candelabra—in this way, I created a sort of meta-language. There is a reconnection with language through the use of visual “figures of speech”. In the same way that you can replace language with image, I found I could replace a leg with a tassel, for example, or buttocks with a cushion.

Patrizio Di Massimo, The Lustful Turk, installation view, Gasworks

Photo: Matthew Booth

I also think these works are unapologetically over-the-top because I don’t think there is any reason to be apologetic. Racy as it may be, I have to follow through on my decision to make a project about this thorny subject, and I think, for me, that necessitates pleasure, playfulness and enjoyment. If The Lustful Turk book is based on stereotypes and how these stereotypes condition our understanding of an “Other” world, and if I don’t want to be moralistic about these stereotypes then I must make use of them.

Soft, pale pink, and firm. God’s buttocks are glorious. How could they not be, this is God we’re talking about! They were revealed to me in Verborgen musea – Erotische kunst by Peter Woditsch (2008), a documentary about secret erotic art collections. In the film, professor Charles Méla speaks of the divine behind painted by Michelangelo in the fifteenth century in the Sistine Chapel. Approximately four million people view this behind every year. How did Michelangelo dare? Did the patron Pope Sixtus IV simply not notice it, did he tolerate it in the name of artistic freedom, or was he well aware and appreciated it as a gag? In all nonchalance, Michelangelo casually reveals the creator’s butt. It’s almost as though they wound up on the painting by accident, like in a snapshot taken where God, after creating the sun and the moon and the elements, spins around abruptly so that a flash of buttocks is seen through the fluttering of his robes.

It’s almost unbelievable to think that in the heart of Vatican City, Michelangelo’s God has been floating in this compromising position above the heads of robed clergymen and the tourists who are required by the pope to cover their shoulders and knees. Funnily enough, I noticed nothing when standing under Michelangelo’s fresco as a schoolgirl years ago. If a tour guide had pointed and said, ‘Look, God’s butt!’ I would probably have found this a very extraordinary view, but on my own and without the help of language, I completely overlooked it. I saw what I expected to see: pious art.

Thanks to Peter Wotisch’s documentary, I now know that the Vatican possesses one of the largest collections of pornography in the world. When the invention of the printing press spurred an influx of sinful and blasphemous texts and illustrations, the Catholic Church began the Index Librorium Prohibitorium: a list of forbidden books, in an attempt to temper these abominable publications. In order to know what to forbid, the Church carefully kept track of what arrived on the market. The Index-collection is unfortunately not open to the public, but artist and collector Jean-Jacques Lebel was once allowed a peak into it. He saw shelves full of male genitals, taken from classical sculptures bought by art-loving popes. Before being placed in the halls of the Vatican, the penises were removed, neatly labeled and stored away. The castration wounds were covered with marble fig leaves. At first, the thought of these genitals stored away made me giddy, but now that the forced castration of Henk Heithuis has been revealed, it seems there’s not that much to laugh about.

Other museums manage their pagan erotic art in a different manner. In Villa Borghese in Rome, for example, there’s a sculpture of a hermaphrodite sleeping on his or her side. The side on which both breasts and penis are visible is faced towards the wall. The unknowing visitor sees only the back, and remains impervious to its dual gender. If I think back to my youthful disinterest, I’d almost think that Villa Borghese could have saved itself the effort of rotating the sculpture.

Jean Michel Traimond, guide at the Louvre and at the Musée d’Orsay in Parijs, often notices that people seem oblivious to what they’re really looking at. If it were up to him, it would stay that way, because young women, children, and prudes should not be confronted with sex in the museum. One of his examples of such a sinful work is a centaur embracing Bacchante by the Swedish sculptor, Sergel. On one side, the centaur holds the arm of a priestess, but you’ll see that the other hand is laid on her behind with one finger stroking her anus, the other one touching her vagina. According to Jean Michel Traimond, most museum visitors never notice this, because they perceive the museum as a venerable institution with no room for primitive urges.

‘Art is for the bourgeoisie, a delight for the elite. It’s unthinkable to the greater public that something as ‘low’ as erotica could also be considered art.’

The longer you think about it, the stranger it becomes: the only ones who behave in the museum are the visitors, the sculptures themselves are stiff with sex and violence. I think I’ll go to the Rijksmuseum and the Allard Piersson soon, I’m curious what I’ll see now that my eyes are finally open.

With thanks to Lucy, roaming art platform.

http://www.lucyindelucht.nl/andere-kijk/columns-van-richtje/de-billen-van-god