The disproportionate killing of Black Americans by police brought into relief by the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and Breonna Taylor once again showed the world that the ideals of American democracy are far from achieved. As an organization with one foot in the USA, we cannot look away from these painful events and feel it necessary to reflect on how racism permeates our own part of academia, not just in the USA but also in other countries where HIAA is represented. The board of HIAA strongly condemns the systemic racism and violence enacted on Black Lives. We stand in solidarity with our Black and all other racialized colleagues and students and assert our support for those working to end the injustices that their communities have suffered. We take this moment of reckoning to also reflect on ourselves and what we, as individuals and as a community, must do.
We recognize that racism is baked into our profession: the study of Islamic art arose in the context of exploitative European colonialism. Like many other academic fields, it has also been influenced by the broader history of anti-Blackness. This anti-Blackness is not unique to Europe and North America, but present - often in different guises - across the globe. In our field the effects of these various forces are evinced in the under-representation of Black scholars in Islamic art history; in the sparse scholarship on marginalized religious and ethnic communities in the Islamic world and on marginalized Muslim communities outside it; and the gaping imbalance of resources between institutions located in wealthy nations and their counterparts in countries that are economically under-privileged.
We believe that we can be more than this legacy with decisive action and, as a board, we will be brainstorming ways that our organization can attack the problems connected to racism in our field. To start, we prioritize the 2020-21 year’s awards -- the Grabar postdoctoral fellowship, Grabar Travel Grant, and the Sevcenko Prize -- and the 2021 CAA Majlis for research and activism that expands our understanding of race and its representation in Islamic art and culture, and to topics that deal with the way racism or race has played a part in writing about Islamic art.
We also encourage our members to consider institutional change within their own communities -- for example, through revised admissions criteria, transformation of syllabi, greater emphasis on diversity in academic and curatorial hiring, and the expansion of collections to better represent the complexity of the field and the communities it represents. We welcome input and conversation from you as we work through these ideas.
The HIAA Executive Board
Kishwar Rizvi, President
Sussan Babaie, Past President
Christiane Gruber, President-elect
Simon Rettig, Treasurer
Fatima Quraishi, Secretary
Sinem Casale, Webmaster and News Editor
Ruba Kana'an, H-ISLAMART Editor
Hala Auji, International Representative Matthew Saba, Social Media Manager