A Thousand and One Arabian Nights
Very few people in the West know this story. Perhaps they have some dim memory of Aladdin’s lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or Sinbad the Sailor. But those are only a few of the tales told over the thousand and one Arabian nights and they are taken out of a very meaningful context. This is the story behind the stories that were told by Scherazade to the Sultan-King Sharyar. It goes like this:
Once upon a time an Arabian (Some say Persian or Indian) Sultan had been deeply hurt by the infidelity of one of the women from his harem, and in that hurt he felt betrayed by all of them. From then on, night after night he would choose a young woman from his harem and after making love to her he would have her killed. One night, he chose the woman Scherazade for his companion.
After seeing her sisters attempt to please the Sultan with sensuality and subsequently be killed, Scherazade tried something else. She engaged not just the Sultan's body and senses, but his feeling heart and imagination as well. She told him a story.
Scherazade told a story that went on for almost three years, for a thousand and one Arabian nights. In the process she touched and softened the heart of the sultan. Her story demonstrates the power of the feminine in the midst of a male-dominated society. It offers insight into the wounded heart of a man and how it is cured. It reveals the truth of desire and what the heart is really seeking. Her story looks at the limits of sex and what can be sought and attained in sexuality. Scherazade reveals a unique understanding of the play between man and woman.
This story is told with images taken from the treasure-trove of Orientalist paintings of the late 1800's. The Orientalists painted at a time when the camera was just beginning to be used. They provided the 'photographs' of this exotic world to the West, and their attention to detail is extraordinary. Their images are filled with the fantasy and romance of the European dream of that Middle Eastern world.
Ever since I was a boy I have been intrigued with the world of the East as shown by the Orientalists – a vision of virile, vital men, slaves and concubines, of life filled with sensuality, eroticism, and cruelty. That world represented something I recognized, but had no experience of in my own life, growing up in a middle-class Jewish household of idealistic humanitarians in the America of the 1950's. The Orientalists showed me a world that, whether true or not, was both foreign and exotic, abhorrent and fascinating. As Carl Jung might have said, they showed me the world of my shadow, and I thrilled to it.
Most of the paintings of the Orientalists come without a story. Usually a picture has a name, as well as the name of the artist who painted it and the year it was painted. For the most part their art exists only as a collection of images. In this story I have put together many of these images from the period and molded them into a coherent whole. I found they gave support to the visual narrative of the tale, and in turn the tale gives life to their imagery.
I hope to find a publisher for this book so that it can be produced much less expensively and many more can enjoy it. I would like to purchase the hi-resolution pictures of the art so it can be made into a full size coffee table book. For this, I would need the financial assistance of a publisher as the images cost quite a bit to purchase.
YOUTUBE- MOVIE VERSION
A Thousand and One Arabian Nights
I made this slideshow version of the story several years ago and it has nearly 6 million views already