This article analyzes how photographs of the spy/danseuse Margaretha Zelle fabricated her image of a bayadère or Hindu temple dancer named Mata Hari. Specifically, it looks at how they inflected some key paradigms of orientalia within the orbit of her elaborate pretence while destabilizing her identity when anxieties surrounding World War I were at their peak. A pivotal point of the discussion is the Nataraja, the iconic representation of the Hindu god Shiva dancing the Ananda Tandava or dance of bliss deployed to legitimize Zelle's transformation from a middle-class Dutch woman into the infamous Mata Hari, the exotic dancer. Specifically, the article examines how photographs of her debut recital colluded with the intersecting realms of her performance and Hindu iconography, to secure her iconicity. Last but not least, this article analyzes the conflation between the bayadère and Salomé in a studio portrait taken by Walery, a photograph that also cemented Zelle's self-styled identity as Mata Hari. In particular, it looks at how such images embodied her multiple alterities, endowing her with the possibilities of being Mata Hari while becoming the biblical bayadère, and anticipating in turn the violence of her execution in a grotesque reversal of the Salomé myth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts