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I Dream of Jeannie: I See Demons

Iranian-American Artist Eric Parnes Dreams of “Jeannie” in His Middle Eastern Solo Debut
  "Dreaming of Jinn I," 2012, photographic print. Image courtesy of Artinfo

This fall the Iranian-American artist Eric Parnes will be granted his wish, premiering new works inspired by the Orientalist 1960s TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” in his first solo show in the Middle East at Doha's Katara Cultural Village. The exhibition, “I Dream of Jeannie: I See Demons” (October 23-November 24), takes its cues from the same-named Barbara Eden star vehicle, which ran from 1965 to 1970 on NBC and shaped the way American audiences thought about the Middle East long before the war on terror and the Arab Spring.

Parnes, whose work often applies Iranian iconography, text, textile, and ceramic patterns to incongruous mass-produced objects like soccer balls, deck chairs, or cars, coined the term “Neo Orientalism™” to describe what he calls in his artist's statement “a specific notation of aesthetic exchange between the East and the West within the framework of popular culture.” It refers not only to Westerners' enduring habit of seeing the Middle East as an otherworldly and exotic place, but also tracks the effects of this apparent exoticism when it is seen by Middle Eastern audiences.

In a variation on the Neo Orientalism theme, his Doha exhibition will include “Dreaming of Jinn,” an image of a Middle Eastern woman wearing the same hot pink veil donned by Eden as the show's main character, Jeannie, whose name in turn is a pun on the mystical, wish-granting character of the genie, a deformation of the Koran's supernatural Jinn. The seductive image's winking substitution highlights the distorting effects mass entertainment can have on intercultural perception. An installation of Barbie-style dolls sporting veils, miniature designer clothes, and boutique shopping bags will similarly underline the two-way flow of consumer goods and their embedded cultural values.

Similar concerns inform all the works slated to be included in the Qatar exhibition, from monochrome porcelain replicas of the genie bottle from “I Dream of Jeannie” — which was itself based on a Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey decanter design from 1964, thus already a cultural hybrid — to the exhibition's titular video, featuring a Middle Eastern woman reciting all the Persian phrases from the first episode of the classic show. Parnes aims to examine some of the underlying misconceptions affecting interactions between the Middle East and the West through the seemingly innocuous but no less illuminating prism of campy vintage TV.

 "Neo Orientalist™ Aroosak I to VI," 2012, fabrics and mixed media. Image courtesy of Artinfo

 "I Dream of Jeannie: I see Demons," 2012, video and sound installation, 6 min. Image courtesy of Artinfo

 "Jinn Vessel Pink," 2012, porcelain. Image courtesy of Artinfo

Eric Parnes's "I Dream of Jeannie: I See Demons is on view at the Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, October 23-November 24.

 Via Artinfo
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