There is a long tradition within Western cultures of formulating the fictional “Orient” as an exotic and antithetical space to the West. Literary theorist Edward Said formulated the term Orientalism to elaborate on this Western obsession with the foreign “other” from the East. Under this formulation, Muslim women are portrayed as sexually exotic but hidden behind the veil or within the female-only harem space (as seen in the harem painting above). At the same time, Muslim women are seen as victims of the violent and aggressive Muslim men.
In response to this long visual history, Muslim Americans use creative projects and images to work against persistent Orientalist stereotypes that reduce Muslims to one-dimensional figures, either of the violent and angry male terrorist or the hyper-sexualized but oppressed female victim. The following examples show how Muslim Americans are playing with these stereotypes while also representing themselves as complex individuals.