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Tilework at the Alhambra palace. Spain.
2008 Biennial Symposium

Spaces & Visions

The University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia
10.15–10.17.08

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This symposium is intended as the inauguration of a biennial cycle of meetings within the field in order to reflect its growth, to support its expanding methodological, regional, and temporal scope, and to give the Historians of Islamic Art Association (HIAA) greater visibility internationally as the leading organization for historians of Islamic art, architecture and archaeology.

The first symposium will take place over a three-day period and will have each of the three days focused on a different zone of interest. The first day, “Out of Late Antiquity,” takes up the field’s formative emphasis on early Islamic art, a field remade in recent years through continued archaeological investigations and critically informed readings of the historical sources. The second day, " ‘Unity and Variety’ Once More: Time, Place, Material,” examines the field’s definitive shift since the late 1970s to regional, dynastic, and media based inquiries. The third day, “Confronting Modernity,” addresses the extension of the field into the modern and contemporary periods, and emerging debates about their study.

  • 10.15.08

  • 05:15–06:15

    Keynote

    Archaeology, materiality, and meaning in things: Formative processes in the first Islamic centuries

    Archaeology in the last thirty years has inundated Islamic studies with huge amounts of raw data, but only sporadic analysis and even less explanation. This situation has both clarified and complicated matters enormously. The problem is not only with the volume of data, but also the very nature of that material: what questions can be asked of it, its uses in formulating cultural history, the intellectual obfuscation that often haunts archaeological analysis, and how such approaches and results relate to Islamic art. Adding to the confusion is the blatant unreliability of earlier archaeological work in the Middle East. Hence the archaeology of Islam has struggled to free itself from a sadly tainted chapter in the history of the discipline, while seeking connectivity to contemporary trends in approaching the history of art.

    With the above in mind, this paper sets out to evaluate new understandings derived from recent archaeology in the Middle East, especially that undertaken in Bilād al-Shām. The abandonment of conventional art historical approaches have encouraged the adoption of more contemporary methodologies that are more compatible with the new types of data produced by archaeological research. In turn, these developments have influence the nature of archaeological investigation at Islamic-period sites. To some, this advance has created a certain intellectual distancing between archaeology and art history, but that perceived disparity is considerably more apparent than real. Modern intellectual discourse permits a multiplicity of approaches to achieve a common objective, in this case a deeper, more encompassing, and more meaningful understanding of the formation and development of Islamic society and culture. Not only are fresh perspectives brought to bear on longstanding issues, but completely new questions have been formulated, and are currently being addressed, on matters such as the development of economic systems, material culture as an agent of social change, dietary practices, religious interaction, and environmental change. From these perspectives, a clear argument can be made for general compatibility of contemporary practice in archaeology and art history. Hence, there is a great deal of common ground between the two disciplines if archaeologists and art historians emphasize that which is shared.

    Alan Walmsley
    Director, Materiality in Islam Research Initiative, University of Cophenhagen
  • 06:15–06:30

    Coffee break

  • 06:30–08:15

    Panel

    The Relationship of Archaeology and Art at the Beginning of Islam

    Much of the new data on the material culture of Islam in its early period comes from archaeological sources, and is much wider than the narrow traditional canon established by K. A. C. Creswell. One consequence is a greater awareness of non-Muslim peoples, when the Muslim population was still small, but also the need to identify Muslim populations outside the great architecture. Another consequence is the much wider range of activities that can be detected and which bear on Art and Architecture, such as construction for sporting, military or even industrial purposes. A third is the greater contextualization of significant developments, such as the origins of Islamic ceramics. At the same time, an effort needs to be made to understand the different momentums of archaeology and art history, their different directions.

    Alastair Northedge
    Session leader
    Yumna Masarwa
    Early Islamic Military Architecture: The Umayyad Ribats of Palestine
    Eva Hoffman
    The Samarra Dancers: Evidence for the Definition of an Abbasid Style
    Ian Straughn
    Common Ground: Landscape Emplacement and the Art and Archaeology of Early Islamic Bilād al-Shām
    Mattia Guidetti
    The Early Islam in Front of the Byzantine Churches
  • 08:15–09:30

    Lunch

  • 09:30–11:15

    Panel

    Fatimid Art

    The art and architecture of the Fatimid period in North Africa and Egypt (909-1171) comprises a diverse corpus of material in media ranging from urban planning and monumental architecture to carved ivory and rock-crystal. Combined with an extraordinarily rich array of textual sources relating to the arts of the court and urban life, the material culture of this period gives an unusually complete picture of medieval Islamic art from the period before the Mongol invasions. To what extent is this a dynastic art? To what extent is it a regional one? How does it change over the two and a half centuries of Fatimid rule? To what extent can one use the arts of the Fatimid period to generalize about other times and places?

    Jonathan M. Bloom
    Session leader
    Alison Gascoigne
    Archaeology of the Fatimid Period
    Nicholas Warner
    Fatimid Cairo: a Reappraisal of Form and Content
    Mina Moraitou
    Fatimid Woodwork
    Vivian Mann
    Fatimid Manuscripts in Hebrew and Arabic
  • 11:15–11:30

    Coffee break

  • 11:30–13:15

    Panel

    Messianism, Kingship and Sacred Cities in the Islamic World

    The extraordinary number of cities in the Islamic World that are (or have been) considered sacred inspire this session. Cities sacred to Muslims are found in the Middle East, in North Africa, in the Indian Sub-continent, and arguably, in Europe. These cities attract pilgrims and prestige as the sites of ancient enclosures, as the sites of burial places of saints, as sites of learning, and as sites of caliphal authority. This session will enquire how such cities have supported, and in turn, been transformed by rulers who engaged with messianic ideas and propaganda as a form of legitimation. Such messianic ideas include mahdism (the expectation of an extraordinary figure in the world who will promote an age of justice, of righteousness, of equality and of peace), and imamism (the expectation in the reappearance of the occluded imam as the rightful temporal and spiritual leader of the umma). Messianic rulers have cast themselves as saviours of the people and protectors of the faith, claiming publicly corporal and spiritual lineages that lend them both political rights and spiritual stature. Messianic ideas stretch and compress time in various ways, paralleling the demolitions and constructions that messianic rulers have overseen in various cities, giving form to their mystique and sources of legitimation.

    Heather Ecker
    Session leader
    Sussan Babaie
    Friday Prayer and Millenarian Promises on the Shores of the Caspian Sea
    Rochelle Kessler
    Fathepur Sikri: Piety and Politics Along the Agra-Ajmer Road
    Christiane J. Gruber
    Return, Retribution, and Reward: Messianism as Municipal Matter in Post-Revolutionary Iran
  • 13:30–14:30

    Workshop

    On Qur’ans and Codicology

    The workshop will explore the contributions of codicology for art historians working on Arabic manuscripts. Materials from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will serve as a basis for the presentation. 

    François Déroche
    Professor, École pratique des hautes études
  • 10.16.08

  • 05:15–06:15

    Keynote

    Reflections on the Birth and Growth of the Field called Islamic Art

    The designated topic of the day, ““Unity & Variety”” Once More: Time, Place, Material,” encompasses a huge arena of inquiry sandwiched between Late Antiquity and Modernity. In this keynote lecture I hope to fulfill my appointed assignment to revisit once more the familiar trope of “unity and variety” by reflecting on the birth and growth of the field called Islamic art. The lecture seeks to examine the shift in the field, since the 1970s, from a predominant focus on the early period of Islamic art and architecture in the “central zone” of the Fertile Crescent to a broader chronological and geographical scope. This shift has contributed to a change of emphasis from artistic unity to variety, accompanied by an increasing prominence of dynastic, regional, and media-based inquiries that constitute the subject of today’s panels and workshop. My aim is to address the unresolved methodological tensions arising from the expanded scope of the field, along with concomitant anxieties over the fragmentation of its traditional “universalism.” The first half of the lecture outlines the premises of still prevalent approaches we have inherited from the construction of the field during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century, a field rooted in the entangled legacies of orientalism, nationalism, and dilletantism. In the second half of the lecture, I will review the reflections of several scholars since the 1950s on the state and future of the field before turning to my own reflections on challenges posed by its expanding horizons. 

    Gülrü Necipoglu
    Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art, Harvard University
  • 06:15–06:30

    Coffee break

  • 06:30–08:15

    Panel

    Women and Patronage

    Although the patronage of architecture and the visual arts by women has been a rich topic of exploration in the field of art history and gender studies in general, until recently very few scholars had explored the role of women in Islamic art. Those studies that do exist show that women, both freeborn and slave, could amass fortunes and play a key role in the transfer of property, the construction of family identity and genealogy, and the public display of piety through their activities and endowed foundations. Although they did not appear prominently in chronicles and histories, women were important patrons of Islamic art and especially the built environment. One can hardly imagine Istanbul without the mosque, tomb, and bath complexes commissioned by Ottoman women, or Cairo without the tombs and pious foundations of Fatimid and Ayyubid women.

    The study of women relies on a different methodology than that for men. Although women of the Prophet’s family and in ruling houses appear in biographies and court chronicles, to find middle and lower class women, one must plumb court cases, dowry records, waqfiyyas, and commercial contracts and correspondence, often seeking moments when women stepped out of normative anonymity and asserted their legal or economic rights. Thus the study of women has benefited from – and contributed to – the methods of “microhistory” with its emphasis on individuals rather than broad currents.
    Moreover, with our emphasis on material culture and the built monument, art historians (and historians engaged in art history) have made important contributions to the study of women and Islamic culture in general, exploring the operative boundaries of private and public space and the exercise of political power through urban investment.

    A critical work in the study of women in Islam was Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam (1992) because it introduced the issue to a wide reading public. In art history, Esin Atil’s special issue of Asian Art (1993) was directed toward a general museum audience, but it was written by scholars and inspired others to pursue similar questions. In the past few years alone, many new works – several by HIAA members – have appeared on the theme of female patronage in Islam. The session will adopt a specifically visual and historical point of view and will present new research on female architectural spaces, female patronage of public building, and the methodology of such studies.

    D. Fairchild Ruggles
    Session leader
    Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderini
    The Patronage of Fatimid Women
    Lucienne Thys-Senocak
    The letters of Hadice Turhan Sultan
    Afshan Bokhari
    Jahan Ara Begum’s ‘Gendered’ Loci of Memory and Legacy: Begum Dalani, Ajmer (1638), Chahar Burj, Lahore (1646) and Agra Masjid (1648)
    D. Fairchild Ruggles
    Women and Patronage in Islam: a historical overview of the study
  • 08:15–09:30

    Lunch

  • 09:30–11:15

    Panel

    Pushing the Boundaries of the Iranian World: Theme; Medium; Dynasty(ies); Place

    The art and architecture of the Iranian world in the Islamic period encompasses an enormously diverse body of material with expansive and often elastic temporal and spatial boundaries. This panel will take some of the by now traditional ways in which we look at and classify Islamic/Iranian art, whether stylistic, thematic, iconographic, dynastic, geographic or medium-based but will offer new perspectives. The boundaries to be pushed may be literal or figurative or both.

    Linda Komaroff
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    M. Shreve Simpson
    Notions of Narrativity in Persian Imagery, or Giving the Freer Beaker a Narrative Turn
    Yuka Kadoi
    Blue in Medieval Iranian Textiles: The Cycle of ‘Chinoiserie’
    Sheila Blair
    Dynasties in Iranian Art: the Case of the Ilkhans
    Tim Williams
    Merv: The Organization of Space in the Early Islamic City
  • 11:15–11:30

    Coffee break

  • 11:30–13:15

    Panel

    Unity in Diversity? Circulation, Stasis and the Canon

    Among the many recent developments in the field that have helped redefine and refine the problematic notion of ‘Islamic’ art is a burgeoning interest in the nature of art produced in regions formerly considered marginal to the canon. Despite its undoubted innovations, much of this work assumes a rather static relationship between region and style, or subsumes regional and stylistic variety into a unity implied by dynastic labels. In addition, the majority of this research has been concerned with the relationship between Islam and its non-Muslim ‘others’. With few exceptions (the recent interest in Fatimid-‘Abbasid rivalry, for example) there have been far fewer attempts to analyze or deconstruct the nature of the Muslim self and its relevance to the history of material culture.

    These phenomena reflect the instrumentality of fixed or static categories of analysis to the construction of a canon. By contrast, this session seeks to examine aspects of circulation and mobility, their relevance to the material culture of the Islamic world, and implications for its study. The mobility in question might entail shifting patterns of self-identification (conversion between different faiths or modes of Islamic belief, for example), the circulation of artistic forms and concepts as a result of mercantile exchange or pilgrimage, or the ‘translation’ of formal concepts between different media.

    Finbarr Barry Flood
    Session leader
    Lawrence Nees
    Decorated Verse ‘Markers’ in Early Qur’an Manuscripts and their Transregional Connections
    Elizabeth Lambourn
    Travelling with Style – Merchants, Craftsmen and the Transmission of ‘Islamic’ Material Culture in the Western Indian Ocean
    Emine Fetvacı
    ‘Ottoman’ Art at the Service of ‘Ottoman’ Identity
  • 13:30–14:30

    Workshop

    On Reading Urban Fabric

    The method of investigation on architectures, urban fabrics and the landscape developed by the School of Saverio Muratori was designed for architects, people who not only analyze the built reality as architectural historians, but who transform reality as designers. The Modern Movement created a rupture between the past and the present, denying History an active role in the conception of architecture, and reducing the project of design to individual invention grounded in self-referential principles of the architect. Our School invokes Muratori’s principles, and intends to restore the active and central role of History, in whose examples are collected the principles and rules of any project. In other words, it is from the built reality that surrounds us that the principles for the physical transformation of the same reality can be derived. Probing into every detail of this reality and processing stages, therefore, becomes vital. A project is designed almost like the "objective" product of the last phase of the historical process in the present. The analysis of reality proceeds from the present backwards, and is a reconstruction of all phases up to the farthest back in time. The process of analysis uses a concept of “type,” which can be defined as “the organic sum of elements in a given time and in a limited area.” It follows, then, that the “type” - far from being an abstract form - is actually a typological process. For the reconstruction of phases and sequences of transformation in an urban fabric, this method identifies from one time to the next typical behaviors of buildings and building tissues through the signs that are present in the plan of a city. The workshop will present the general principles of this typological analysis, and then proceed to explain its details thorough the presentation of two case studies.

    Attilio Petruccioli
    Dean and Professor of the Faculty of Architecture, Bari Polytechnic
    Giulia Annalinda Neglia
    Interpretation of the urban fabric of Jerusalem, Aleppo and Hama at the dawn of Islam
    Claudio Rubini
    Interpretation of the medieval urban fabric trough morphological behaviors: the cases of Kashan and Bukhara
  • 10.17.08

  • 05:15–06:15

    Keynote

    Contemporary Art and Islamic Culture

    When Oleg Grabar wrote The Formation of Islamic Art in 1973 he asked several questions about when and how Islamic art came into being, and underscored the complexity of using a term, Islamic, to describe an art that could have at once social, religious, and cultural implications. Thirty-five years later the problems posed by Grabar remain especially germane when discussing contemporary art from regions that are predominantly Muslim. What, if anything, makes this art contemporary, or Islamic, or both? How are contemporary artistic practices related in countries as diverse as Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan to name but six? How do artists from these countries see their work, and how is their work perceived throughout the region and beyond? Are there useful frames of reference—global, diasporic, postcolonial, transnational, for instance--to help understand this work? Who defines what constitutes contemporary art from countries that are predominantly Muslim—scholars, critics, artists, the market? These are among the questions that this talk will endeavor to address by focusing on the work of a number of artists such as Lida Abdul, Kader Attia, Ghada Amer, Shadi Ghadirian, and Nezaket Ekici, among others.

    Glenn Lowry
    Director, The Museum of Modern Art
  • 06:15–06:30

    Coffee break

  • 06:30–08:15

    Panel

    Museums, Exhibitions, and Collections in Historical Perspective

    The various roles played by museums and the temporary exhibition in fashioning the field of Islamic art have emerged as a topic of interest in recent years and continues to be an area of growing scholarly research. Studies have focused on the history of collecting and museum formation; the dynamics between institutions, curators, collectors, dealers, scholars, and the market; the practices of installation and how they advance overt and covert narratives; and the study of the museum collection/exhibition through the frameworks of modernity and post-modernity. Recent years have witnessed the reinstallation of key collections in Europe and America—opportunities to meditate on the history of the field and its orthodoxies—; exhibitions staged with an explicitly historiographic emphasis (the key current example being Purs Decors?, at the Musée du Louvre); and the emergence of new public museums and collections, principally in Turkey and the Gulf States. Of equal importance is the exponential growth of art fairs and biennials which present the work of contemporary artists. Museums east and west have now turned to the collection and exhibition of contemporary art. Paper presenters—art historians, curators, artists—for the session are invited to consider these broad topics and the intersections between them. In what ways have fresh perspectives and new practices engendered critical assessments of the field as it is construed?

    Massumeh Farhad
    Session leader
    Hussah Sabah Salem al-Sabah
    From Private to Public: The Metamorphosis of the al-Sabah Collection
    Anneka Lenssen
    Pseudo-fragments of Heritage: Michael Rakowitz’s “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist”
    Monia Abdallah
    Twenty-Five Years into the John Addis Islamic Gallery of the British Museum: On Introducing Contemporary Works into a Collection of Islamic Art
    Jannane al-Ani
    Contemporary Art: An Artist's Perspective
  • 08:15–09:30

    Lunch

  • 09:30–10:30

    Workshop

    Iranian Cinema in Context

    This workshop will introduce and explores manners of incorporating aspects of cinema (and video installations) as a form of visual art in contemporary Muslim world. The interface among cinema, video installations, painting, photography, and graphic art require a renewed conversation with the underlying aesthetic and political sensibilities that inform much of the contemporary art scene in the Muslim world.

    Hamid Dabashi
    Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • 10:45–12:30

    Panel

    On Conservation and Cultural Policies

    This session will explore the history and current practices of conservation and restoration in the Islamic world. Case studies are invited to gauge the ways in which specialists, governmental bodies and international organizations contribute to the making of “historic” built environments, and to the creation of local and/ or national identities.

    Farroukh Derakhshani
    Session leader
    Stefano Bianca
    Reconciling Conservation and Development – The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme
    James L. Wescoat, Jr.
    Conserving Indo-Islamic Waterworks and Gardens: The Intersection of Cultural, Environmental, and Social Policy
    Muhammad al-Asad
    Relevance and Marginalization: The Architectural Historian and the "Real World"
    Hassan Radoine
    Exploring History, Sustaining Heritage
  • 12:30–12:45

    Coffee break

  • 12:45–14:30

    Panel

    How to Study Contemporary Islamic Art and Architecture

    Where do contemporary Islamic art and architecture stand in the world today? This too general and consciously polemical question is not new, although recent events have lent it an unprecedented critical urgency. The answers at hand vary widely. Some commentators see in the globalizing trends and the accelerating mobility of artists and ideas beneficial vehicles for increased exposure of the contemporary Islamic art and architecture. Others point to the eurocentric pedigree of contemporary art and architecture and its most entrenched biases, such as artistic hierarchy and cultural segregation, as formidable impediments to a true integration of the contemporary Islamic art and architecture in the international scene. Still others consider the question itself too redundant since they do not think that we can define a contemporary Islamic art and architecture that is not already intermeshed with the global so as to obviate any claim of a definable and separate identity. The papers in this panel will address these and other similar issues through examination of specific case studies.

    Nasser Rabbat
    Session leader
    Nebahat Avcioglu
    The ‘Glocal’ in Contemporary Turkish Architecture: The Case of Han Tümertekin
    Kishvar Rizvi
    Dubai, Anyplace
    Ijlal Muzaffar
    Concrete Alibis: Modern Architects, Planners and the Quest for Self-Propelled Modernism in Karachi, 1953 – 1963
    Sarah Rogers
    Marketing Art History: The Case of Contemporary Islamic Art

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