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The Golden Age of Denial: Orientalism

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Constantin-Jean-Marie Prévost, The Tattooing of a Sailor

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The Barber of Suez, Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat  

“One of the best examples of an Orientalist painting that appears homoerotic, at least to a modern viewer, is The Barber of Suez, painted by Leon Bonnat in 1876, a few years after his trip to Egypt. … A comely young man sits cross-legged on a rug, his robe open at his neck, while another well-muscled man, wearing only a loin cloth, stands behind him, leaning over to shave his chin. The sitting man, with a look of plenitude, nestles his head into the barber’s crotch. Hugh Honour remarks on the photographic nature of the picture in which ‘these two motionless figures [are] completely absorbed into one another, sealed off in their own world, observed but unobserving’. The contact between head and genitals, the tenderness and intimacy of their barber’s gesture, as he spreads the fingers of his free hand over the side of his client’s face and the blissful look of the man being shaved, combined with the general portrayal of handsome partially unclothed black men, might well have struck responsive chords in the homosexual viewers. — Robert Aldrich, Colonialism and Homosexuality

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