The Imagined Harem


Documentary by Liesbeth Hagen, on myth and reality about the Harem in Western art.

The mention of the word harem itself causes the heart to beat a little faster and the imagination to take flight. A world of erotic abandon set in exotic surroundings is instantly conjured up before our eyes. This image of the harem as a fantasy wonderland, dripping with sensuality and full of vulnerable, naked women, is, however, just that: a fantasy.

Throughout the centuries the mystery that surrounded (and still surrounds) the harem has inspired artists and excited their imagination. Fantasy upon fantasy created layer upon layer of imagination until the fantasy fed upon and reinforced itself. The image we have of harem life has been repeated so often that it is imprinted forever on our minds.

This documentary wants to explore the many forms the imagined harem has taken in art and to trace, where possible, its origin. It may be precisely because so little was known about the harem, that it has proven to be such an endless source of inspiration. When we realise how little artists had to go on, their work is maybe most of all proof of the force of imagination.