Narghile (Hookah) in ART

Rudolf Ottenfeld, Backgammon 1890In the western and oriental imagination, narghile appears as an artistic artefact. Let us consider, for example, this gold-coloured harmoniously enamelled of blue and green hookah from Cashmere, or those of Indore, a city of Indian Madhya Pradesh, the coconut of which, used for its elegant shape, is "mounted in silver with very good native work" (cf. R.Blackner' site) "Chillums" of the same area are sometimes moulded in the same metal and provided with a conical lid. Some are made of "glazed pottery, biscuit background colour with a green pattern and ruby spots" (Id.). Let us also appreciate this Ottoman baluster shaped chiselled narghile decorated with diamond points, knocked down at 35.000 French francs"… Thus, in the Orientalist painting, the artists definitely had a taste for representing the narghile. Any research in this field comes under a real visual anthropology.


Ange Tissier, Une AlgérienneBeyond the simple aesthetic pretext made of it, which leads writers or poets to use the word "narghile" in the very title of their works, one may wonder how this artefact calls upon the imagination sphere called "inspiration". Indeed, from a purely physiological point of view, the narghile excites the five human senses: the vision as a craft object, the touch through the manipulation of its numerous elements, the taste and the smell through the absorption of its flavoured smoke and the hearing by the gurgle of water inside the vase.

Some other landmarks

Lewis Carroll actually deep-rooted narghile in the western collective memory thanks to his tale for children entitled Alice's Adventures in Wonderlands:

...She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.

Théophile Gautier is interesting from several points of view. First of all, he described, in 1856, with an ethnologist's precision, the different types of tobacco one could find by that time on the market. Then, he established a geographic comparison of narghile use.

Honoré de Balzac, even if he was known to be tobacco-phobe, was nevertheless lenient only with narghile:

En fait de jouissances matérielles, les Orientaux nous sont décidément supérieurs. Le houka, comme le narguilé, est un appareil très élégant; il offre aux yeux des formes inquiétantes et bizarres qui donnent une sorte de supériorité aristocratique à celui qui s'en sert, aux yeux d'un bourgeois étonné.

A Rebetiko song by Artemis (1935)(from Gail Holst)

In the bath of Constantinople, a harem is swimming. Arabs guard them and take them to Ali Pasha. He orders his guard to bring them before him, To make them dance and play the bouzouki. Narghiles for him to smoke with Turkish hashish And hanoumia to dance the gipsy tsifteteli. That's how all the Pashas live in the world, with narghiles, bouzoukis, caresses and kisses...