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Mardi Gras, Middle Eastern Style

Mardi Gras in New Orleans wouldn't be complete without ... Cleopatra?

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Published Mar 21, 2008 11:31 AM


Mardi Gras in New Orleans wouldn't be complete without ... Cleopatra, Isis, Aladdin, Babylon and other icons of popularized Middle Eastern culture, says Jonathan Friedlander, assistant director of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies.

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The fact that New Orleans has a very small Middle Eastern American population doesn't stop carnival krewes — organizations that put on parade and balls for the carnival season — from pulling out all the stops on the road to a make-believe Mecca.

Friedlander has extensively photographed the five parades with an orientalist theme that marched in the recent 2008 carnival and is researching 20 additional parades that have appeared at Mardi Gras over the course of a century. His work documents the broad and longlasting representation of the Middle East in American life and popular culture.

Friedlander directs an ongoing project on Middle Eastern Americana which includes a cornucopia of his photos from Mardi Gras and other parades and festivals, as well as a trove of publications, ephemera, and material culture on this fascinating phenomenon. The Jonathan Friedlander Collection of Middle Eastern Americana — consisting of more than 1,000 images and other items — is accessible to students, faculty, researchers and the public at large in the Special Collections Department of UCLA's Young Research Library. The collection will also soon be accessible electronically via the Online Archive of California.

Visit Friedlander’s Middle Eastern Mardi Gras photo gallery.

Friedlander is also producing an illustrated book, tentatively titled "Tainted Beauty," with publication anticipated next year.

For more information, visit the Center for Near Eastern Studies.

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