The Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas

Aladdin Hotel in 1995

Aladdin Hotel Shirt

Aladdin Hotel 1968
Atlantis Hotel Dubai

The Aladin Casino opened in 1966 in Las Vegas, with a later reopening in 1995 until its demise several years later. Without having to explain the obvious. all elements of design and merchandising were intended to reflect aspects of the fantasy/reality in regard to the 1001 nights story of Aladdin. Certainly for many people a trip to the Aladin Casino  in Las Vegas might have been viewed as a snapshot of the  actual Middle East, and while many would be quick to discount such a thought,  some of the construction/design in the last 15 years does come close.... 


A Serio-Comic Map of Europe 1900

 From Bibliodyssey "A  political caricature map by Frederick Rose of the countries of Europe, known as the Octopus Map from the brooding presence of the Russian Empire depicted as a massive octopus, whose tentacles stretch out towards Europe. China is shown in the grasp of Russia, as is Persia and Poland. France and Spain are attractive women, while Germany, Italy and England are Military commanders. his map, by Rose, followed the style created by a Frenchman, Joseph Goggin, showing Russia as an octopus."

Notice the Turkish shoes, and  the Russian tenticle around the head of a the Persian.  


سوپرمن , SUPERMAN and Nabil Fawzi

In the late 60's Superman was introduced to Arabic reading audiences. Unlike Persian, there is no letter "P" in arabic so the  B ب was used unlike in Persian where a P پ  exists .  Dont worry this goes the other way around as well, with so many letters not found in the english language when translating...  In addition to the name modification, Clark Kent became Nabil Fawzi.   Interesting how the graphics are more artistic as a result of less writing clutter that is normally seen in the English versions. The  April 1970 issue Aramco  gives further details "Another problem had to do with the distressing fact that Arabic reads from right to left instead of left to right and that kids in the Middle East open the comic book at what in western countries would be the back. That meant that the filmed reproductions of the original art work had to be reversed before printing plates could be made, a process that immediately produced a basket of letters from curious kids who wanted to know why the "S" on Superman's costume was backwards.Because Arabic is a language that tends to run on at sometimes extravagant length, IP also had difficulties with translation. Until translators and calligraphers (who inscribe the translated text right onto the filmed copies of the original artwork) got the hang of it, the crisp English, neatly fitted into the "balloons", often expanded into enough text to fill a pamphlet." In addition here is another newspaper outlining some of the original challenges in the attempt to connect the differing cultures.


Harem Pants en Vogue

The Harem pant suit reminiscent of Scheherazade of 1001 Nights (during the 1960s that is). Pulled from a Vanity Fair in the 1960's  I believe the harem suit made its Western contemporary debut. There is somewhat of a futuristic modification to the basic design.  I dont think the earrings came with the outfit...


Little Egypt and Hootchee Kootchee

I remember the first time i saw a belly dancer.... in Cario with my Baba,  which in turn brings me back to a discussion on  Little Egypt... not the place in Astoria Queens, but the first Belly Dancers in the US. 

The Chicago World's Fair did bring some legitimacy to Middle Eastern Dance in terms of visibility in the West.  In 1898 Thomas Edison captured perhaps the first film of Belly Dancing. Looking at this with over 100 years is dangerous, as her costuming being a mixture of victorian and Middle Eastern sensibilities were probably quite foreign appearing at the time.  It would appear that the dancers were quite aware of how to take advantage of this new found interest. Now according to Anna's belly dancing article,  which is much more informative than the wiki article on the subject. "It is believed the first major appearance of belly dance in America happened at the World’s Columbian Exposition aka the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The fair featured a re-creation of an Egyptian market aptly named “Streets of Cairo” where vendors sold Egyptian goods, and dance and music groups from countries like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Tunisian, Algeria, Turkey, among others, shared their cultural tradition on the stages along the “midway”. The dancer’s hip and stomach movements were considered vulgar and strange compared to the popular waltz and ballet which were acceptable forms of dance of the time. The nearly, fully covered dancers were also considered very controversial for not being corseted, which was the fashion trend and “respectable” custom of the day.
An entertainment promoter for the Exposition named Sol Bloom quickly took advantage of the controversy surrounding the foreign dancers and began billing the dance as the “hootchee-kootchee” dance in order to get more customers. This advertising tactic was a huge success. Soon, others including Vaudeville promoters, labeled its all-American adult entertainment as “hootchee-kootchee” dance in their popular shows, which later became known as burlesque, the precursor to modern day stripping or “exotic” dance. Though burlesque dancers used some of the movements they saw the foreign dancers do, it was not in part or in whole the same traditional and folkloric dance as performed by the “real” belly dancers at the World’s Fair. This misuse of the term belly dance subsequently spurred two of the most common misconceptions about belly dance - that belly dance is related to the strip tease or “exotic dance” and that belly dance is about seduction. Over 100 years later, the belly dance community at large is still trying, unsuccessfully, to educate people about the true dance form and bring to light its inaccurate association with stripping and burlesque.

Sol Bloom is also said to have coined the term “belly dance,” which is a translation of the French term “Danse du ventre” or dance of the stomach, said to have been first used by French invaders to Egypt in the late 18th century. The term belly dance, only made the foreign dancing more scandalous to Victorian mannered Americans, that considered direct terminology for body parts like “belly” unwholesome talk.
At the Exposition, a Syrian-born dancer named Farida Mazar-Spyropoulos performed with “The Algerian Dancers of Morocco” under the name “ Fatima”. Farida later claimed to have been the first “Little Egypt”, but did not perform under this title at the Exposition. Since then many dancers, Middle Eastern and otherwise, have used the name “Little Egypt” to promote themselves, some more respectably than others.
One such dancer, and probably the most recognized as “Little Egypt,” was actually a Vaudeville burlesque dancer named Ashea Wabe (pictured right). Her most infamous claim to fame was being questioned at a New York City bachelor party on December 19, 1896 for Clinton Barnum Seeley after police were tipped off “that indecent dances were going to be given by Little Egypt and others ."


The Persian Palace

Ve travelled all da vay from Isfahan wit rugs.. and people came for da hot "belly dancing" girls  (Zan) from Paris!

 Upon researching one thing or another, I came across the Chicago World Fair, and the Middle Eastern world that was constructed within its boundaries. One of the  most visible monuments was the Persian Palace.  The following synapses  taken from the Paul  V. Gavin Library provides a interesting perspective, particularly of the disappointment of the Persian contingent, and the focus on belly dancers from Paris. My take was that they had hoped to attract crowds as they do today with cute girls staging an event, but surprisingly enough in the 19th contrary a women showing more than a wrist was probably all the gentlemen could process." It was expected that the people of America would take a deep interest in the customs, manners, handicraft, and people of Persia. In token of this expectation a company of twenty-two Persians arrived in Chicago, April 9, 1893. They had traveled from Shiraz and Teheran overland to Constantinople, and thence by Austrian Lloyd steamer to New York. A few weeks later a second contingent arrived safely from Isfahan by the sea route - down the Persian Gulf, through the ocean to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, New York and Chicago, being sixty days on the way - one of the longest journeys taken by anybody to reach the World's Fair. These people hoped to attract Americans by setting up their shops, where the weaving of carpets, rugs and shawls, the engraving of metals, the labor of lapidaries, and the manufacture of Persian candies might be seen. But the genius of Midway Plaisance was pleasure and not instruction. The working people of Persia soon became the scarcely seen on-lookers in Midway, beholding "the greatest Oriental star, Belle Baya, the prize beauty of the Paris Exposition of 1889," and other dancing girls, who were nothing more nor less than young women of Paris."   

However, there are others who see this event as the first time Belly dancing made its presence known on such a scale in America, and therefore the sensationalism attributed to the event is not necessary negative.  More on this to follow.


Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Versace babouches

More finds from my travels in the souks. These are based on the typical Moroccan design, known as the babouche. There is always one rule when bargaining, which is to pretend you dont actually care about the item you want, but the trained seller knows that glint in the eye... in any event I got a reasonable deal on these.  


New Kids on the Block in Beverly Hills of Arabia

Going back a short period in time many in the US wish to forget, in 1990 the New Kids on the Block where immensely popular, and as a result they had their own cartoon to accompany their fame. One particular episode has the group to be arranged to wed a "Middle Eastern" woman, straight out of 1001 nights. What makes this more than a typical Arabic based plot, is that the family lives in a mansion right in Beverly Hills. One wonders if the writers were slightly influenced by the 30+ years of Persians living in Beverly Hills many in McMansions. Regardless, to read into anything further into this script would undoubtedly lead one to madness. However, the video is posted above.


Cyrus the Great and تخت جمشید, in Baghdad

The Iranian Embassy in Baghdad Iraq has recently been in the news as a result of a bombing. Less has been focused on its unique design. This structure is based on the columns of Persepolis during the rule of Cyrus the Great, and invokes a Persian Neo Classical design. Admittedly I am unaware if this genre of architecture exists as a term, but it does now. I have  found very little written on the subject and history of the structure. I have put a small piece I have in my collection of the original stone work for reference. 


Dont take my Harem away

A wonderful resource Arab Kitsch has documented Vaudeville songs based on or around the Middle East themes. "Between 1900 and 1935 the number of popular songs composed on topics pertaining to the Middle East far exceeded those of any other time period in American history until the Persian Gulf War. Between 1905 and 1908 the Salome craze, prompted by the premiere of Richard Strauss' opera, flooded Coney Island and vaudeville theaters with numerous parodies and take-offs (pun intended). This was followed by a spate of songs about the ever-popular Cleopatra. But several other factors, both economic and social, prompted a sustained popular interest in things and people "oriental." The importing of Turkish tobacco prompted cigarette brand names such as Fatimas, Murads, Egyptian Deities and Rameses. Literary groups were memorizing Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Eventually, all would be caught up in the conflagration of World War I in which Turkey joined with the Central Powers against the Allies.
For the lyricists of the day, "oriental" was shorthand for designating anything "east of Suez," or more properly, anything east of Morocco or the Dardanelles. There was no concern for precise geography or national boundaries. Mecca could be in Turkey, Baghdad in Persia, and a Salome dancer named "Princess Oy-Vay-is-meer" could be called a "Hindoo lady."" 


From Iraq to India or the other way around

These items were purchased in Iraq by a US military soldier. The items are evokative of the typical Middle Eastern esthetic. However they are not from the Middle East.  If you ask any "older" Iranian man or woman they are experts at telling you how to differentiate Persian rugs. They throw out terms like the thread count and the fringing, but do they really know the precise thread count of a Tabrizi?  My point being I am not an expert in copper works, however being around so many at early points in my life, I knew there was something odd about the designs, and had to investigate the object further to confirm my suspicion. These items, that are sold as representations of the Middle East, and the "Arab" world in the heart of the Middle East, are actually produced in India. The designs are not Persian, nor Iraqi. Sometimes the context matters most when you are in the Bazaar... 


Iranian Female Ninjas

This piece recently appeared on PressTv, Irans english television channel. First, it is worth noting the Iranian flag, mixed with the Japanese "rising sun" imperial flag in the lower right corner. While this is certain to entertain many in the world, I can not help myself thinking of  how the costumes are quite action figure like. A fusion of Chador, and Ninja almost sounds like a perfect fit.  I prefered the tiger striping to the all black. The niqab/ face covering envokes elements many in the West would associate with GIJoe/Action Man. The Daily Mail has more photos of their training here


Saudi Drift and MIA

With the super bowl in the US in 2012, the performers are quick to release some products to enhance the experience. This year MIA, and Madonna are performing, and MIA's new video is influenced by a Saudi "past time" involving acrobatics with cars.  It is worth mentioning that in a country where gas prices are of almost no concern, it does not surprise that vehicles are used for more than just getting to work. It is also noted that Saudi Arabia has one of the most modern systems of highways, that look more American than many of the American highways themselves!. Multi lane roads within desert settings, Provides a contemporary twist on the slow camel caravans of only 80 years ago.  


Iran Female Police Force Mercedes and Motorcycle

More toys...The first photo is a toy Mercedes police car from Iran  (manufactured in China) based on the 2007 highly publicized Iranian female police force. These photos inspired me to paint the seemingly surreal nature of reality. In addition I felt compelled to design some of my own toys based on similar themes. Below is a Toy based on the Iranian volunteer voice, Basij, and a Ducati motorbike created to match the Mercedes. 


American Black History in Iran

Photos above are of African Americans stationed in Iran during WWII in the Gulf Command. These were the inspiration for a series of small studies, shown at the bottom.  For a little history, the Persian Gulf Command was a US service command established in December 1943 to assure the supply of U.S.  war material into the Soviet Union. It subsequently came under the command of a succession of engineer generals. Following the War Department’s full militarization of construction, the Iranian District ceased to exist in May 1943. I have asked a older family relative, who would have been a little boy during this time, if he remembers seeing Black US soldiers, and was informed that he did remember seeing some, and that at the time they were viewed with a mystic as "cultural representatives" of the United States. Certainly, like other places in the world, there were no Black segregation laws in Iran, and while there have always been Africans in Iran, this influx of African Americans within the Gulf Command would have been a first.  It would be interesting to find any material based on their experiences. 

The Gulf Command Patch, is a design I assume from within the US armed forces,  which includes a red scimitar, from the flag of Iran (or Persia) of the ancient Persians. The white seven pointed star is taken from the flag of the Kingdom of Iraq representing purity and religion of the Middle East, and the green color of the shield denotes the agriculture of Persia, and Islam. Green being the choice colour of reference.