Orient Express

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Dorit Bialer
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At the turn of the Century, the Orient Express was synonymous with opulence, affluence and the expansion of horizons. The luxurious train picked its passengers straight out of the opera houses of central Europe and drove them east, all the way to the exoticism of the Ottoman Empire and later as far as Cairo (via Palestinian Haifa and Jaffa) and Bagdad. At the time, cross-continental travelling presented a groundbreaking novelty, and people of means could expose themselves to the exotic charms of the Middle East. However, the idea that the passenger indeed crosses cultures and continents was partly make-believe, as the whole operation stood under the banner of colonialism: tourists boarded off at destinations that were essentially an extension of the country from which they came.
For it was looting, slavery, suppression and racist doctrines that had opened Europe’s path to the Orient and Africa. Egyptian linen, racial supremacy, French wines, local slaves and fine meats are all intermingled in this luxurious ride to a world of horrors. Dorit Bialer’s “Orient Express” brings us this combination of prestige and atrocity in the edifying graphic idiom of the school charts that were common at the time. Bialer’s train and its trajectory are based, in part, on the famed Orient Express and on the colonial reality of the time, further extenuated by the look of contemporary marketing tools. The wealthy could have experienced the ‘uncivilized world of the Orient’ out of the comfort of velvet seats and European luxury, at a safe distance from squalor, destitution and the suffering of others.
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