A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

have camel fantasy, will travel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 27, 2008

A few days ago, a work friend sent me an email that included this photo of Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s work “Arabian Delight”:

(More of Multji’s portfolio, including additional photographs of Arabian Delight, can be viewed here.)

I keep returning to this image, because I can’t decide how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I find it a brilliantly witty commentary on the camel/desert/harem fantasies that continue to populate the minds of Americans and Europeans when it comes to the Middle East. I love how in this case a tourist is literally packing the fantasy into his or her suitcase.

And I can’t tell you the number of times friends and acquaintances have joked about the camel-riding they imagine that I do in Syria and Lebanon – even those who know better! (I haven’t kept a strict count, but its up there with the number of times I’ve been asked how I feel about having to wear an abaya. I’ve never had to wear one. In fact, the last time I wore one was to tour the Grand Mosque of Kuwait, where as tourists we were largely exempted from modest dress requirements – men and women alike. I chose to wear an abaya to be respectful … and because as a New Yorker I’m a sucker for chic all-black outfits :).)

On the other hand, Mulji’s piece involves an actual dead camel, which I think is pretty gross. Not to mention a bit disrespectful to the animal in question. Surely she could have made the same point using a camel made out of fake fur – or an inflatable one:

(Thanks to AdvertisingBalloons.com for this image.)

I’m still torn. What message do you get from Arabian Delight? Does it speak to you at all? And: could you imagine seeing this piece in a gallery exhibit in the Arab World? I can “see” it in Lebanon, but the taxidermy element makes me wonder whether it would be welcomed in the Gulf.


3 Responses to “have camel fantasy, will travel”

  1. intlxpatr said

    I agree. It’s a disturbing image. It feels disrespectful, to the camel, to the culture. Why not a plastic, fake fur or plush camel – it would convey the fakeness of the image.

    BTW, I have looked desperately for a real blow-up camel for Sporty Diamond’s son, with no success.

  2. Jana said

    I feel sorry for the camel 😦

  3. Khalti and Jana,

    I agree – I feel sorry for the camel, just like I feel sorry for all animals turned into taxidermy. I suspect that Mulji chose to use a real camel deliberately – after all, she probably knows that there are blow-up camels and toy camels aplenty, and that she could have one sewn to her specifications if not. In a way, I can see her use of a real camel as a commentary on all the toy camels at Arab airports – that the real thing doesn’t fit nicely into a suitcase, and isn’t a toy.

    Yet it still makes me a bit queasy to look at the image of her artwork. Of course … the fact that I’m still thinking about her piece ten days after posting about it could mean that its fulfilled its purpose as art: its challenged my assumptions and made me think hard about the world we live in!

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