Salma Caller : The Meaning of Ornament and the Dangers of Looking at Others

I wanted to be part of this project to engage more deeply with Wilde’s notions and ideas about art and beauty, and particularly with the imagery in his play Salome, written in 1891. My own work explores Orientalism, ornament and the body.

Ornament has complex ways of meaning across different cultures but often now in Western culture ornament is seen as superficial or lacking substance or profound meaning. For Wilde, beauty was vital and ornament was also emotion and meaning, not just superficial decoration. This for me is a crucial link to understanding ornament in other cultures. The flat ornamental space free of perspective that Wilde said he longed to sit in, is in fact a multi-dimensional world of touch, concept and feeling.These are ideas that excite and interest me. Wilde understood this about ornament and beauty. 

Looking is a very dangerous thing in Salome. The forbidden or taboo gaze or the strange gaze seems to me to be at the heart of the play. It is utterly fascinating. The ornamental language Wilde uses communicates deep and complex meanings. There is also rich and beautiful imagery of the moon, and a contrasting of the colours black and white. I wanted to make a dramatic theatrical and beautiful lily that worked with the imagery of the play, yet also explored the notion of the gaze that falls on those who are different without seeing them. In this work for me personally there is a message about looking at others, especially others from other cultures. Can we ever really see them? Or do we gaze at them as if into a mirror and only see our own desires and thoughts reflected back?

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