Arts and Culture
Exoticism is a well-studied notion in humanities: anthropology, of course, brought some seminal theories on the relationship between “us” and the “other”. In art history or theory, we also find important works on literature, music, photography, painting or dance. Surprisingly, film studies seem to fall behind. A Western invention, cinema was quickly received and reclaimed by non-Westerner culture: in China, western productions were almost immediately screened in teahouses or other popular places and ten years after the Lumière's discovery, in 1905, a Beijing photo studio made its first Chinese movies. Same in India, where Phalke made mythological films since 1913. Indian cinema became a nomade and popular art, linked to religious fairs, as well as an urban novelty. This art, made to travel and to be transformed, has never stopped creating worlds of otherness and visions of strangeness. By always confronting the global and the local, it seems to have in its essence a link with exoticism, as it can also be defined as an invention of signs and forms.
The difficulties of studying cinema and exoticism are perhaps due to the negative meanings attached to a notion that is mainly, and rightfully, considered as the dominant look of European culture at the “other”. Therefore, the goal of this panel is twofold: we want to examine the question of exoticism in fiction films, a category that produced a rich array of exotic fantasy; but our aim is also to decenter the approach, by investigating the question from the “other” viewpoint – here India and China. Exoticism could be defined as a dialectical movement between the Near and the Far, the “Here” and the “Elsewhere”, the Same and the Other. By multiplying the points of view, and, in a dynamic that relates to the cinematographic “shot/reverse shot”, the panel will hold together the two faces of exoticism.
We will focus on how Indian and Chinese societies receive the visions of themselves conveyed by western films. But we will also examine how the Western world, especially Europe, is exoticized in Indian and Chinese cinema, two important film industries. We believe that this will contribute to shake up the questions of domination, imperialism and colonialism attached to the notion of exoticism. We will show how Chinese and Indian cinemas are decisive to grasp how the relationships between these cultures and the European model are changing.