HIAA Symposium at MFAH & Rice | Abstracts

Jali, India, 1605–1627, sandstone; carved and pierced, museum purchase funded by Rania and Jamal Daniel, 2013.83, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Hiba Abid

A Muslim Conception of Memory in the Arts of the Book? Color and Illuminated Forms in North African Manuscripts

In my research on the multisensorial aspects of Islamic pietistic texts in the Maghrib, I address the book as a physical object and investigate the link between the perception of a text and the shapes of the codex (“form affects meaning,” D. Mckenzie). In this regard, the codicological examination of physical traces left by book owners (mutilation, marginal notes, addition/removal of leaves…) offers important clues on the differential ways of reading, understanding and appropriating the text.

By considering the book as a whole (Contadini, 2007), this paper discusses the uses and impacts of colour and illuminated forms in North African religious manuscripts. Despite the lack of calligraphic treatises in the Maghrib, a few textual sources as well as copyists’ notes suggest a symbolic use of colours in manuscripts’ text and illumination. This paper will also address abstract architectural images and patterns, questioning the intrinsic value of images and the way they can be perceived by their contemplators. I hypothesize that architectural forms in religious images can act as the frame of an anamnesis. In this regard, I open a reflection on a possible Muslim conception and use of memory and its relationship to topoi in light, for instance, of Avicenna’s theory of internal senses.


Michelle Al-Ferzly

Sense and Sensuality: Early Islamic Dining-Ware and the Museum

Much of the extant material culture of the medieval Islamic world is composed of tableware: bowls, trays, ewers, and cups, amongst others. While previous investigations of this material have largely focused on identifying the artifacts’ dates and places of production, studies have not explored the ways in which these elaborate vessels, ostensibly designed for dining contexts, functioned within the nuanced context of social engagement that characterized dining in the medieval Islamic world.

In this talk, I show that the iconography, weight, heft, and medium of objects such as bronze ewers and lustreware bowls from eighth- and ninth-century Iraq and Syria played a fundamental role in shaping medieval diners’ perceptions of gastronomy. However, they were also instrumental in personal and communal formulations of courtly identity, elite belonging, ethical behavior, and principles of refined conduct. These ideas and concepts are reinforced through sensory experience, as these objects were not only coveted for their visual appearance, but also invited tactility through their function as dining vessels. Furthermore, they also evoked the sonic properties of the motifs featured on their elaborate surfaces, such as images of musicians, as well as the recitation of poetry by depicting images of animals frequently mentioned in early Arabic poetry. Objects such as ewers, which would have contained water, or wine, and bowls, which would have held food, would have also evoked the sense of taste and smell, cementing these objects’ multisensorial dimensions.

The museum or gallery context, however, elides these objects’ synesthetic properties. Confined only to the realm of sight, the visitor is invited to focus on medium, iconography, and form– rather than use. In the second part of this presentation, I investigate potential exhibition strategies that offer potential avenues for sensorial engagement, such as object molds or plaster reproductions, the release of smells in the galleries, or the sound of music and/or poem recitations in the exhibition space. Such efforts have taken place for western medieval art, particularly for religious objects such as reliquaries, but not often for secular objects. The notion of the senses has also been investigated in scholarship of medieval Islamic history. This research is particularly aimed at dismantling preconceived notions of Islamic culture as one that is primarily phono-centric due to the misconceptions surrounding figural art in Islamic culture. Similarly to work on medieval Europe, such work has not extensively considered secular material culture. Throughout my talk, I argue that the medieval culture of dining, and in turn, the focus of the senses, offers a unique opportunity to shed light on the immediate historical and social contexts of the objects that form the bulk of museum collections of Islamic art.


Angela Andersen

Contextualizing the Vernacular in Islamic Art: No Waqf, No Patron, No Architect, No Building

Habitual engagement with space, ephemeral materials, regional frameworks of praxis, and experiential knowledge of localities are all essential contextual elements of architectural scholarship. Yet, self-built architectural sites, vernacular designs, and notions of the relationships between regional communities of use and their buildings make limited appearances in the published record of the art and architecture of the Islamic world. In my own experience, such topics are sometimes dismissed as “anecdotal” or “too anthropological” by those expecting the narratives presented in the documentary archive, although this is countered by many scholars’ descriptions of their own heritage and fieldwork encounters. This presentation examines the importance of creating a context for the everyday, the vernacular, and the present moment in the analysis of architectural history in Islamic societies.

Minority communities that favour small, prosaic, and vernacular settings often do so for doctrinal and socio-economic reasons, which have a measurable impact upon the rights and architectural presence of these groups. In some cases, architecture of worship and ceremony is indistinguishable from surrounding buildings with quotidian purposes, and therefore decontextualized from the paradigmatic landscape of Islamic sites. The Alevis of what are now Turkey and its surrounding states traditionally gathered in homes and purpose-built halls, sometimes known as cemevis, for their ceremonies. Following migration to urban centres in the middle of the twentieth century, Alevis began to congregate in new types of spaces. Alevi Associations formed to advocate for Alevi needs, including centres for education, funeral preparation, and worship, but they have often been denied licenses and building permits because the Turkish state’s constitutional definition of a “place of worship” (ibadethane) is the mosque (cami). This specific set of historical and contemporary circumstances has resulted in varied combinations of ad hoc and planned solutions to architectural concerns, but waqf records, Qur’anic epigraphy, patronage attributions, and even construction practices and decorative approaches may play little or no role in their analysis, requiring a new “context toolkit”. I will address the question of the vernacular in Islamic architectural studies by reflecting on some of the Alevi-centred approaches to vernacular architecture in context.


Lisa Balabanlilar

Imperial Landscapes: Recontextualizing Mughal Mobility, Environment, Emotion, and Memory

At the peak of the greatest success and power of the Mughal Indian royal court, their near-constant movements played a pivotal role in the formulation of rule, as the sovereign reasserted his connection to and ownership of the territories of South Asia. This lecture—working through the expansive and layered contexts of nomadic statecraft, movement and mobility, emotion, exile and memory, and environmental studies—explores the ways in which their itinerancy influenced the development of Mughal social networks and built environments, profoundly impacting the rulers’ relationship with the natural world.


Patricia Blessing and Richard McClary

Reimagining Royal Space: The Qilij Arslan II Kiosk in Konya and its Lost Interior

The Qilij Arslan II Kiosk, a palatial structure on the citadel mound of Konya, is one of the earliest Rūm Seljuq buildings that survived into the modern age, and is of major historical importance. This project will facilitate the recreation of as clear a picture as possible of the appearance and decorative scheme of the partially intact, and recently heavily rebuilt, monument. By integrating all the new scholarship and archaeological evidence with the surviving architectural elements, this project provides a more detailed and contextualised understanding of this key Rūm Seljuq monument. Particular attention will be paid to the interior decoration. Materials from the building – some collected by various scholars and travellers, others gathered in documented excavations – are now dispersed in collections mostly in Turkey and Germany, with fewer fragments in the United Kingdom, and the United States. These materials include fragments of what must have been extensive, interior tile and stucco decoration. These pieces, removed from their original contexts, offer glimpses of what the interior of the building would have looked like, with similar motifs used in tiles and stucco to create an immersive space. Based on a full study of these extant fragments and historical photographs and drawings, the project will establish to what extent we can understand the Qilij Arslan II Kiosk as a full monument, rather than as a ruined monument separated from the tiles, stucco, and brick elements that once formed its decoration. This paper will address the challenges and limits of reconstituting such a lost interior by digital means, and will propose a range of possible reconstructions, from a version fully documented through archaeological evidence to an imaginary, fully furnished palace interior that also draws on objects attributed to twelfth- and thirteenth-century Konya without clear provenance in museum collections, as well as chronicles and poetry associated with the Seljuq court.


Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya

Mnemotechnics of Images in Pilgrimage Certificates and Manuals: A Codified Mental Visualization of the Holy Sites

Manuscripts produced from the 11th century onwards in relation to pilgrimage rituals and practices often include a rich iconography representing the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, sometimes alongside a series of sites visited by the pilgrim during his journey. Whether completion certificates of the pilgrimage (hajj or 'umra) or manuals describing pilgrimage rituals such as the Futuh al-Haramayn or the Dala'il al-Khayrat, the cycles of images that illustrate these manuscripts often consist of mnemonic strategies of narrating the pilgrimage through a series of conventional images and devices that are visually representative of the holy sites.

While many pilgrimage certificates were proxy certificates made for pilgrims who never visited the holy sites and some manuals were made as personal devotional tools for an elite that never took them on a journey to the holy sites, the cycle of images appears to visually formulate an ideal realization of an imagined journey that would enforce the concept of an internal meditational journey, a mental pilgrimage. This paper will consider the process of codification in pilgrimage certificates and manuals through examples drawn from the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. This preliminary study will attempt to draw a distinction between the iconographic elements belonging to the pilgrim’s empirical experience, and therefore to the natural memory of the journey, and those belonging to a codified memory transcribed by non-realistic representations of sacred places and objects. I will examine how the establishment of cycles of conventional images participates in this mental process of recollecting places of pilgrimage by the imagination rather than active memories.


Yagnaseni Datta

From Monster to Mendicant: Transformative Philosophy in the Paintings of the Mughal Jūg Bāsisht, c. 1602

The Mughal Jūg Bāsisht at Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library, an early seventeenth-century Persian translation of a tenth-century Sanskrit philosophical text from Kashmir, instructs on the illusory nature of worldly experiences and the attainment of liberation. Organized as an instructive dialogue between a sage and a royal pupil, this codex with forty-one paintings—remarkably overlooked by scholars perhaps due to its unstable attribution and supposed obscurity—offers a rare opportunity to witness a confluence of Persian, Indic, and European artistic styles, visualizing abstract concepts drawn from Sufism, Vedanta, and Śaiva non-dualism. In this paper, I demonstrate how the images of the Mughal Jūg Bāsisht participate in a transformative philosophy that seeks to alter the viewer’s consciousness as she advances through instruction. This transformation, at times, physically modifies the recipient from a savage beast to a benign being in the presence of a master, acting as a conduit of knowledge. However, the images also subvert the authority of the religious orders. They do so by merging the spiritual master with the ruler and framing the disciple as the mendicant. This subtle power shift espoused in the Jūg Bāsisht images speaks to socio-religious preoccupations of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century Mughal court, enabling us to contextualize this singular codex and further use it to appreciate a dynamic Mughal intellectual landscape that sought to engage with the visuality of several language-bound discursive traditions of South Asia.


Ashley Dimmig

Localizing Islam at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Curating Islamic art in a Black-majority city in the United States has brought to light the need for new interpretation, engagement, and representation of African American Islam in museum exhibitions and installations—a need that the new permanent galleries of Islamic Art at the Walters Art Museum (opening spring 2023) aims to redress. In order to demonstrate the new galleries’ intervention(s) in the field, this paper sets the stage with an overview of national trends, where intersections of Black Islam and the arts are manifest in the public arts scene in the United States—including in museums and contemporary galleries, libraries, the performance arts, as well as in the virtual sphere. Then turning the focus on the case study of the Walters Art Museum, I will elucidate the museological approaches we employed, such as frontend surveys and an advisory committee comprising local stakeholders with diverse expertise, as well as the particular curatorial narratives that interweave Black Muslims’ stories into displays of historic Islamic art objects. From the story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701–1733), who was enslaved in Maryland and whose portrait was painted wearing his personal Qur’an around his neck in a leather pouch, to the local baker of bean pies for the Nation of Islam in the twenty-first century, the new galleries localize Islamic arts and material culture, and thereby reflect their current context in the city of Baltimore.


Parshati Dutta

A Royal Caravanserai in a Refugee Crisis: Reconstructing the Mughal Sarai of Amanat Khan in the Context of Post-Partition India

In the year 1607 Abd al-Haqq, a calligrapher trained in Shiraz, moved to the Mughal court in India, and rose quickly through its ranks to become lead calligrapher and composer of epigraphic programs for a number of prominent Mughal monuments, including the Taj Mahal. Shortly before his death, he commissioned a caravanserai - Sarai Amanat Khan - on the imperial highway connecting Agra to Kabul and the Silk Road network beyond, that was not only popular among travelers but also a rare example of both Safavid inspired calligraphy and ceramic tile mosaic. While the Sarai started to decline in the mid-18th century, in 1947 with the declaration of India’s Independence and the Radcliffe Line being drawn barely 10 kilometers west of the Sarai, it witnessed an unexpected revival and the addition of a second layer to its original material fabric. For the millions migrating to India from Pakistan in the wake of the Partition, the Sarai was one of the first sanctuaries that they encountered. Fortified, abandoned, flexibly planned with series of cells circumscribing a massive courtyard, and located in close proximity to a water source, it readily rendered itself to adaptation as a refugee camp. Seventy-five years later, with its courtyard completely built over by concrete structures Sarai Amanat Khan is now Amanat Khan village, the erstwhile caravanserai’s existence discernible only in its monumental gateways, and in aerial views of the settlement where its footprint continues to abide by the rigid square plan delineated by the Sarai’s ramparts. Thus, what was once a provincial caravanserai is now a pragmatic, dynamic, and increasingly urbanized settlement, although this unique hybridization and remarkable transformation has remained unresearched so far. Begley (1978) and Parihar (2008), the only art historians to have engaged with the Sarai, have chosen to study it through its 17th century period of construction, relying exclusively on Mughal sources, and treating it as a static entity. Their thematic approach too has thus been limited to those of connectivity and cultural synthesis, artistic practices and sub-imperial patronage. But it can be argued that the history of the Sarai remains incomplete without its post-1947 narrative when it became symptomatic of forfeiture of the very same values, precipitated by the calamitous Partition of India, an event of proportions so great that its impact reverberates through South Asian borders even today. Thus, in an attempt to comprehensively underscore the changing and current attributes of value of this site across layers, and from the perspective of all categories of users albeit retaining emphasis on its resident custodians, this paper explores an extension of its temporal, geo-political, social, functional, and architectural contexts. Using cultural mapping, architectural documentation, and oral history recordings to analyze the caravanserai’s post-Independence layer, it builds on the secondary literature regarding its Mughal period, to create a comprehensive narrative for Sarai Amanat Khan. For the numerous unprotected Mughal monuments that dot the overpopulated subcontinental countryside and get eventually assimilated into their contiguous communities, the paper aims to create an alternative methodology that encourages their re-imagination, away from dominant, intellectually distant discourses, and offers instead a new model of meaning making, where in addition to standard art historical methods employed by the expert audience, ascriptions of import by their current users too are included.


Mohamed Ahmed Enab

Zaydī Shiite Inscriptions on the Religious Ottoman Buildings in Yemen and its Connotations

Ottoman presence in Yemen Divided into two periods, first period from 945 AH until 1045 AH, and then the second from 1289/1918 AH. At the time of independence from the Ottoman state, Yemen was ruled by Qasimid family 1045-1266 AH. This dominated the Zaydī imamate of Yemen. The Qasimid imams did many repairs, renovations and additions to buildings built by Ottomans in Yemen. They recorded many of writings and phrases that carry different connotations, including texts dating these additions, names and titles of Zaydī Imams who carried out these renovations, Quranic verses, Poetic verses and Shiite words. In this paper, researcher deals with content of these phrases and writings, also he deals with Different connotations of this writings (political, religious and sectarian connotation).


Yasemin Gencer

Framed: Image and Race in the Early Turkish Republican Press

The establishment of the Turkish Republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was marked by sociopolitical reforms aimed at modernizing, secularizing, and nationalizing both people and state. During the early years of the Republic, the Turkish press contributed to the building of a modern profile for its citizenry imagined as a largely Muslim, Turkish, and male readership. The press’ preoccupation with modern appearances was reinforced through illustrations and political cartoons published in the satirical journals and illustrated gazettes of this period.

While many of these representations celebrated the new, ideal citizen as a white, Turkish man of action, they failed to acknowledge the agency and needs of religious and ethnic minorities (i.e., Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Kurds). Rather, they routinely ignored, diminished, or satirized them in political discourse and national narratives. This talk focuses on the treatment of minoritized peoples, especially ethnic Kurds, in the graphic arts of the early Republic. An investigation into depictions of the Kurdish population in the Turkish press reveals a visual conflation of Kurdish identity with religious zeal. As a result, the shrinking place of Islam in modern public life paralleled the diminishing visibility of Kurdish culture within the framework of the new secular Turkish nation-state. The images also conflated Kurdishness with notions of Blackness, animality, and mimicry, veering into the perilous conceptual zone of the infrahuman, which often relies upon carefully framed intersections that involve race, gender, and religion.


Christiane Gruber

“Do-For-Self”: The Visual Culture of the Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam (NOI) was founded in 1930 as a politico-religious movement for Black empowerment in the United States. From 1960 onward, it intersected with other American liberation movements under the auspices of Elijah Muhammad, NOI leader from 1934 until his death in 1975. During those two decades, the NOI’s official newspaper, Muhammad Speaks (1960-75), became a leader in the Black Press, exposing the horrors of the Vietnam War, genocide in Africa, and the lynching and mass incarceration of African-Americans on the domestic front. Muhammad Speaks also included numerous essays, op-eds, and illustrations—including by the talented artist Eugene Majied (aka Eugene XXX)—promoting the moral and salvific value of the Islamic faith, especially in contradistinction to Christianity, rendered in the newspaper’s line-up of contents as the embodiment of white supremacy, colonialism, enslavement, darkness, violence, and death. Many of Majied’s depictions provide pictorial arguments for conversion to the faith, itself imagined in the 1960s-70s American geo-political arena as a rich repository for personal empowerment and freedom—the latter two concepts often referred to in NOI rhetoric as “Do-For-Self.” This talk explores the type of Islamic visual culture crafted in Muhammad Speaks in order to expand both Islamic Art History and Critical Race Art History, above all to take into account the influence of a modern American racialized landscape on locutionary and pictorial expressions that were couched as emphatically “Islamic.”


Irem Gunduz-Polat

Religious and Political Contexts Entangled: The Construction of the Mevlevi Lodge in Edirne

This paper studies the Mevlevi lodge in Edirne built by the sixth Ottoman ruler Murad II in the 1430s. It tries to understand how the place became the first Ottoman enterprise in the Mevlevi order during a period of turmoil and fragmented political context. When Murad II constructed this edifice, it was the Karamanids, the archenemy of the Ottomans, who had the support of the Mevlevi shrine in Konya for a long time. The paper seeks to analyze how the construction of this lodge, together with the other foundations of Murad II, revived the Ottoman capital and the state and how they manifested the Ottomans' political challenge against their enemies. It claims that the lodge canalized the order's sociocultural dominancy to the new region on behalf of the Ottomans, and it helped them prove their presence in Anatolia and the Balkans. The paper grounds itself on hagiographies, financial registers, and waqf records to trace changes in the sociopolitical environment of fifteenth-century Anatolia and the Ottoman State. With the multilayered information in these sources, it visualizes networks of people working, living in the lodge, and mobilizing between various Mevlevi lodges in the region using digital humanities methods. It also introduces maps created with geographical data to see how the Ottomans used a pious institution to stabilize their territories in the distant lands. It shows how a lodge of a Sufi order, a religious institution, can shift the dynamics and paradigms of social and political contexts.


Sahar Hosseini

Looking From and Through the River: A Different Perspective on Seventeenth-Century Developments of Isfahan

This paper underlines the significance of "natural systems" as a critical, yet often absent, "context," which enriches narratives of the making and social life of objects, buildings, and spaces. Examining the first phase of the development of New Isfahan at the turn of the seventeenth century against the backdrop of its natural context, it explores different modes of presence and participation of the nearby Zayandihrud River in this phase of Isfahan's urbanity.

Focusing on the axis of the Chaharbagh Street and establishments along and around it, this paper argues that the river enabled, conditioned, and animated these structures and spaces. Key to the development of this area was massive infrastructural projects that manipulated the river and integrated its water as a resource for irrigation, and visual and sensory delight. Furthermore, the size, current, and seasonal nature of the river conditioned architectural form, spatial organization, and different stages of the construction of the Allahvirdikhan Bridge, as well as the social and royal life that unfolded in and around this structure.

In re-imagining and interpreting this moment, the paper relies on cross-referencing a wide array of visual and textual sources with historical maps and aerial photographs, legal documents pertaining to the management of the river's water, and clues embedded in spatial arrangements, architectural materials, construction techniques, and architectural decorations. Innovative graphics are employed to elucidate the findings and add a new layer of meaning to interpreted sources.

In this way, foregrounding the natural environment shifts our focus from monumental architectural projects to the river and hydraulic infrastructures that made the city's southern developments possible, and contributed to a range of new visual, aural, and embodied experiences that were hardly available in the medieval city and, thus, distinguished this chapter of Isfahan's life from previous centuries.


Linda Komaroff

A Damascus Room in Los Angeles

In 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) acquired a relatively complete Damascus Room dated 1180 AH/1766-67. It arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2012 in 24 crates without any in situ images and only a few speculative elevation drawings to advise us. In some respects, it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle but without the picture on the box. The assembling and conservation of the room were largely completed by 2016. This talk will introduce the room, discuss its conservation and mounting onto a purpose-built armature that makes it self-supporting (and somewhat portable), and consider how it will be installed at LACMA in a temporary exhibition in 2023 and finally in our new building in 2024.


Amanda Caterina Leong

Re-thinking Medieval Race and Female Javānmardī in the Illustrated Manuscripts of Khvaju Kirmani’s Khamsa and the Kitab-i Samak ‘Ayyar

Scholars of medieval critical race studies, like Geraldine Heng, have shown how Europeans represented Chinese and Persians in the Middle Ages while acknowledging the impossibility of covering how “the entire premodern world conceptualized and instantiated race”. Heng calls for the need to expand premodern race studies by focusing on how racialization operates in places beyond Europe. This paper seeks to respond to Heng’s call to action by showing how a better understanding of medieval illustrated Persian manuscripts, specifically the British Library’s fourteenth-century illustrated manuscript of Khvaju Kirmani’s Khamsa and the twelfth century Oxford manuscript of popular romance Kitab-i Samak ‘Ayyar provides a counterpoint to the scholarly over-emphasis on racial xenophobia in Medieval Europe, showing how a gendered ‘sinophilia’ helped shape an emerging racialist ideology of Persian masculine perfection around the same period.

While these two illustrated manuscripts have been analyzed from a visual perspective, by conducting a dual textual and visual close-reading of the illustrated manuscript of Kirmani’s ‘interracial’ love story between Persian Prince Homay and Chinese Princess Homayun in relation to a similar ‘interracial’ love story between Persian Prince Khorshid Shah and Chinese Princess Mah Pari depicted in the Kitab-i Samak ‘Ayyar illustrated manuscript, this paper reveals how Chinese women were remembered as Persianate masculine models of javānmardī (chivalry) due to their ability to embody and redefine virtues associated with this chivalric ideal ranging from virtuous trickstery, gift-giving, ‘glamor politics’, and gender-bending. The scholarly consensus has been that javānmardī pertains to the sexed male body only. However, the way women, specifically foreign, Chinese women like our two Chinese princesses, Homayun and Mah Pari were celebrated as masculine models of javānmardī, points to not just a lesser understood history of medieval Persianate gender, but also race relations. This becomes clearer from these two illustrated manuscripts that explicitly reveal through a visual-textual narrative how the premodern Persianate world celebrated China, specifically Chinese women as chivalric leaders capable of reviving Persianate adab and kingship especially when Persian patriarchal models of governance were failing with the collapse of the Abbasid and Seljuk Empires as well as the rise of the Mongol Empire.

Javānmardī also pushes us to re-think, from a feminine perspective, the cosmopolitan extent of the Persianate world, specifically how its ‘frontiers’ went extended all the way to China, challenging the Indo-Iranian focus that dominates studies on the Persianate world. By also analyzing the different challenges the Chinese princesses and Persian princes face in their ‘interracial’ romance, I locate in both manuscripts’ depiction of ‘love between strangers’ the different tensions that governed the ‘frontiers’ of the Persianate world as the patriarchal concept of Persian kingship was being called into question by the elite literati.


Xinyu Liang

Faith and Integration: Taiyuan Ancient Mosque and Chinese Muslims’ Settlement in Heartland China

This paper explores the mosque architecture in the heartland of China during the pre-modern era by examining the physical structure, ornamentation, and social context of the Taiyuan Ancient Mosque. Approaching this mosque as a public space that serves multiple cultural functions and attracts audiences of diverse identities, the paper explores how the architecture negotiates two distinct but intertwined traditions, one religious, the other secular. It demonstrates that the Taiyuan Ancient Mosque gives visual expression to how local Chinese Muslims mediate their complex self-identities and their relationship with a non-Muslim-dominated society. Concerning the non-authoritative nature of its patron class, the mosque further reveals itself as a metaphor for the local Chinese Muslims’ strategy of survivorship, settlement, and integration. The conclusions are founded upon a series of close readings and object-based analysis of the visual and spatial elements of the mosque and its surrounding environs. Concentrating on surfaces and materials, this paper discusses the efficacy of ornamental elements such as floral decoration and Arabic calligraphy in transforming architectural space into a sacred Islamic building. The arguments are further enhanced by the interpretation of inscriptions inside the architecture and other historical texts, which provide a broader historical and cultural context for the mosque and its audience. This paper not only aims to expand a perspective on the marginalized area but also to enlighten the inter-transformation of materials, sensations, and aesthetic experiences between Chinese and Islamic art in a vernacular context.


Arvin Maghsoudlou

Rethinking Context in the Study of Precious Metalwork from Iranian Late Antiquity

The objects known today as Sasanian silver belong to an extensive body of silver vessels produced in Iran and west Asia between the third and eighth centuries CE. The extent of production and distribution of these objects and their enduring impact on artistic expressions of many cultures across Eurasia testifies to their significance as agents of transregional and transtemporal interaction. Yet, and despite their long-term, cross-cultural currency, scholarly attention over the past century has often centered on the decipherment of the objects with figural imagery, mining them for data regarding the political history of the period. Moreover, the gravity given to the religious or imperial iconographies has perpetuated the often-arbitrary division of the corpus into Sasanian and Islamic (post-Sasanian).

This paper challenges the existing contextual approach and seeks to reconsider silver vessels not simply as carriers of political or religious ideologies of a particular period or dynasty, but as indispensable and practical components of a culture of banqueting and pleasure shared widely among the elites of late antique and early Medieval worlds. I argue that the allure of Sasanian silver that leaps across time and space resides in the objects' inherent material qualities and their functional relevance in the context of princely feasting or the bazm. Resisting time and historical events, these vessels retained their exceptional ability to move across borders and, as relics of a mythologized past, inspired the aesthetic and material sensibilities of the later periods. Building upon these arguments, I ultimately suggest a revision to the current classification of works of art from late antique and early medieval (or early Islamic) west Asia.


Anna McSweeney

Displaying the Alhambra Cupola in Berlin

We are used to finding pieces of Granada’s Alhambra palace in global museum contexts, as fragments of stucco, carved wood or glazed tiles, mostly taken from the site in the 19th century by individual visitors to Spain. However, by far the largest and most unwieldy single piece from the Alhambra outside of Granada belongs to the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, where it is due to be redisplayed in the forthcoming reinstallation of the collections. It was taken from the Nasrid palace by Arthur von Gwinner, who bought the building in which it formed a crowning ceiling to a mirador, in a room that overlooks the city of Granada and the Alhambra palaces. Gwinner had it dismantled and re-erected in his home in Berlin in the 1890s where it was displayed in an oriental-style room, complete with Spanish tiles and custom-made furniture.

Today it hangs in the Museum in Berlin. This paper will introduce the ceiling and discuss the considerations for its redisplay, including the potential for using new museological approaches such as sensory elements to evoke its original Spanish context; the scope for digital tools such as gaming platforms to reunite the ceiling with its architectural context; and practical strategies to mitigate the physical difficulties for the visitor of viewing a ceiling from below.


Mika Natif

“In the Name of the Mothers”: Postpartum Scenes as Female Genealogies in Mughal India

The early Mughals, like their Mongol and Timurid ancestors, are known for their attentiveness to ancestral lineage and genealogy. While the imperial patriarchal line played a prominent role in the right of succession and the emperor’s legitimacy to rule, the matrilineal line could establish the charisma and prestige of the dynasty as well. The visual expressions of dynastic female traits can be seen, among others, in numerous depictions of postpartum scenes. These images show Qultaq Khatun with her newborn Ghazan Khan, Takina Khatun and her infant Timur, Hamida Banu and baby Akbar, Maryam al-Zamani and her child Salim, as well as the infant prince Murad and his mother.

This presentation focuses on Mughal nativity illustrations. Between 1585-1603 the artists working at Akbar’s workshops painted at least eight illustrations of post-natal scenes in Mughal court histories. Following similar compositions, these pictures were designed to connect the generations and bring them together into a coherent lineage history. These illustrations may relate to a display of a multi-generational female authority within the context of genealogies.

Such visual evidence points to the ways in which the Mughal elite allowed space for expressions of female prominence in the genealogical representation of the lineage, following similar ancestral praxis of their Mongol and Timurid progenitors. For the royal family during Akbar’s reign, adhering to a patriarchal system did not mean shutting off dynastic contributions of female members. Indeed, the post-natal illustrations disrupt a patriachal historiography in order to convey the complexity, specificity, and contribution of powerful female royal figures.


Janet O’Brien

Framing Nādir Shāh’s Indian Portraits in a British Colonial Narrative

The conquest of Delhi in 1739 shook India and stunned the world. Despite the horror of his invasion, Nādir Shāh (r. 1736–47) was commemorated in dozens of portraits from across the Indian subcontinent, the majority of which were produced posthumously. This paper addresses the often pondered but never explained transformation of the Iranian invader into a haloed emperor of India, even though he did not stay to rule the conquered land. Demand for Nādir’s portraits continued among local patrons and British officials of the East India Company well into the nineteenth century. Many of his representations were inserted into genealogical series of Mughal emperors, including painting albums and portrait miniature sets. The paper considers the motivations behind this singular phenomenon. It focuses on the role of the British in popularizing Nādir’s image, not only in painting but also in biographical writing. It asks whether they saw an opportunity in leveraging a glorified portrayal of the foreign conqueror to foreshadow their own rise to power in India.

Many of Nādir’s Indian portraits look similar and unexceptional at first glance. It is only by analyzing their placement and particulars within the corresponding series and setting them against the socio-political milieu of the collectors as well as the British narratives of Nādir that distinct patterns of intention begin to emerge. Through this reconstruction of their internal and external contexts, the paper puts forward a novel consideration of Nādir’s Indian portraits as a measure of the colonial agenda and offers a new art historical perspective on the formative period of British India.


Jenny Peruski

Portal Patinas: Reconsidering Practices of Collection and Display in Three Carved Doors from Zanzibar

East African carved doors have occupied a precarious place in Swahili coast studies. Their construction and use imply an architectural object, and yet they are curiously mobile works. Scholars and collectors such as James de Vere Allen photographed them in situ, but also removed them from their original locales and transported them to western collections, purportedly to better preserve them. Even within east Africa, doors could be moved from one home to another, thus creating visual affinities between families and dynasties over time. These various contexts of display have complicated the reading of these doors, where scholars are at once inundated with too much information and too little. We can see that certain doors have long and complex histories but can do little to access that information. For instance, the back door to the Peace Memorial Museum in Zanzibar is dated to 1701/1702 C.E. (1113 A.H.) in the lintel inscription, but we have no record of its history prior to around 1850 C.E. The present paper proposes the ambiguity of these doors not as a problem but as a method. This ambiguity makes these doors ripe for complex and multivalent interpretations based on social, political, and architectural histories. Visual consumption of these doors was seldom limited to any singular framework but instead played with the boundaries of time, knowledge, and display. Embracing this multiplicity, this paper calls into question the dominant framing of these doors as exclusively visual objects and instead grounds them in ethnographic, art historical, and religious networks of meaning.


Mariam Rosser-Owen

The Torrijos Ceiling at V&A East

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) holds in its collection one of four strapwork carpentry ceilings from the now-lost Palace of Torrijos, near Toledo in Spain. This palace was built in the 1490s by Gutierre de Cárdenas and Teresa Enríquez, a noble Castilian couple then actively engaged in financing and fighting in the conquest of Granada from the Nasrids. Yet they chose to adorn each of the four corner towers of their palace with a wooden, painted and gilded ceiling, whose designs combine Islamic and Gothic aesthetics.

When the Palace was dismantled in the early 20th century, these ceilings and other monumental elements were dispersed. The V&A’s ceiling was displayed from 1910 until 1993, when it was put into storage. Various attempts have been made over the last three decades to find a space where it could be redisplayed, but these plans are finally coming to fruition in the V&A’s new East London Storehouse project, scheduled to open in 2024. The Torrijos ceiling will crown a dedicated gallery space – but what will happen underneath it? How will we tell the story of the ceiling and the disappeared palace that it comes from? How can we use this object to tell a more nuanced story about the diverse cultures of the medieval Iberian Peninsula, and attract new audiences especially from the high percentage of Muslim residents in the neighbouring boroughs?


Anke Scharrahs

‘Damascus Rooms’ in Dresden and Doha: Multifunctional Architectural Spaces in Museum Displays

The so-called ‘Damascus Rooms’ are a kind of elaborately adorned wall-paper, removed from once splendid interiors in private residences in Syria to be displayed in collections abroad. But other architectural elements and decorative features of the original space were often not removed alongside the wooden panelling. These include stone mosaic flooring, fountains with inlaid work, coloured-glass windows, window shutters, textile furnishings – all sophisticated elements of the original ensemble, but also essential features related to climate or social life in the historic context.

Through a comparison of experiences of working on the recent installation of two ‘Damascus Rooms’ in Doha and Dresden, this paper will address not just the practical complexity of reassembling hundreds of wooden pieces and the recreation of spaces with the original dimensions, but also the extent to which the original context should be reconstructed. How to illustrate the main purpose of the room – for hospitality and reception of guests – when key elements are missing, and the public may not be able to interact with the space? How to explain the painted details and inscriptions in a way that connects with contemporary audiences of different cultural backgrounds?


Alex Dika Seggerman

Art Histories of Antebellum American Islam

While exact numbers are not known, it is clear that a substantial number of Muslim Africans were amongst the peoples forcibly moved to North America during the Atlantic slave trade. Because of the violently repressive practices of slavery, the material histories of these individuals are fragmentary. This paper seeks to recover these histories through the slim yet powerful visual and material evidence that remains. This evidence includes the manuscripts of the enslaved Muslim Omar Ibn Said (1770–1864) at the Library of Congress, the collection of objects like prayer beads and clothing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Charles Wilson Peale’s oil portrait of enslaved Muslim Yarrow Mamout (1736–1823) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Based on first-hand research conducted over summer 2022, I carefully analyze these artifacts to uncover their connections to global Islam and also to posit how we can incoporate these histories into Islamic and American art history more broadly. These powerful examples showcase that American Islamic art history has been a small yet constitutive part of American art history for centuries.


Nur Sobers-Khan

Islamic mnemonics and devotional self-formation through visual and haptic practices: a case study of 19th-century Ottoman and South Asian imagery


Margaret Squires

From Silk and Silver to Brick and Mortar: ‘Polonaise’ Carpets and Transmediality in the ʿAli Qapu Palace

Silk and metal-wrapped thread carpets, often referred to by the nineteenth-century misnomer ‘Polonaise’, have long been associated with export from Safavid Iran to Europe. The idea that European consumers were the primary market for these carpets eclipses any sense of their original context, implying that Safavid weavers even created them with European, rather than Safavid, tastes in mind. This paper will present a critical reassessment of these carpets and the narratives surrounding them, placing them within the context of the ʿAli Qapu palace built in Isfahan during the reign of Shah ʿAbbas I (r. 1588–1629). The ʿAli Qapu provides a fruitful ground for understanding silk and metal-wrapped thread carpets: its textile-like walls invoke a sensory experience with their rich surfaces of plaster, gilding, and polychromy. Broad swaths of repeating patterns and a low-relief surface texture in the building’s main audience hall echo actual textiles and carpets, which historical observers affirm once lined its floors. This paper will consider the transmediality of these materially diametric surfaces. How might the rough brick and mortar of the walls and ceiling imply the soft and silky feel of the carpets and textiles below? What was the overall effect of a room seemingly lined from floor to ceiling with silk, silver, and gold? Finally, I will consider the agency of the patrons, designers, and weavers who created a signature mode of carpet to suit the most rarefied spaces in the new Safavid capital of Isfahan.


Sarah Tabbal

Islamic Stucco Glass Windows in their Contexts: Orientalist Paintings and Photographs as Historical Sources

Although Islamic stucco glass windows (qamarīyāt) can be evaluated as important agents in Islamic architecture and contribute to shaping their overall architectural contexts, their reception in the West is a highly neglected topic in art history. Orientalist paintings and photographs are undervalued as documentary sources in the field of Islamic art history and are often reduced to being the product of the Western gaze on the East.

However, numerous European artists, photographers and pioneers of Islamic art history, such as John Frederick Lewis (1804–1876), Gabriel Lekegian (active 1880–1920) and Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807–1879), travelled to the Middle East in the 19th century and were fascinated by the luminosity of the windows, which were made of stucco grilles with inserted multi-colored glass pieces. Lewis, who used his private traditional Egyptian house with stucco glass windows as a setting for his Orientalist genre paintings, as well as Lekegian and Prisse d’Avennes, experienced the jewel-like effect of qamarīyāt, through which the interiors were flooded with light and bright colors, still integrated into their original architectural contexts in Cairo. In their paintings, drawings and photographs, artists recorded the fragile qamarīyāt of buildings that often no longer exist today. In the course of Cairo’s modernization in the 19th century, many of the traditional Egyptian interiors were destroyed and qamarīyāt were torn out of their architectural contexts to become, in some cases, part of European collections.

By presenting first results of the SNSF project ‘Luminosity of the East,’ this paper opens up new perspectives in the field of Orientalism studies by focusing on qamarīyāt. Using a postcolonial, transcultural and transregional methodology, I discuss and compare Orientalist artworks in case studies to reveal a nuanced view of European artists on Islamic material cultures. Conceived for a Western audience, I argue that the portrayal of the qamarīyāt in Orientalist artworks not only served as a stylistic device to reinforce the stereotypical image of an exotic Middle East constructed by Europeans, but that they can also be evaluated as important historical sources that help us expand our knowledge of the sensory, perceptual, and social settings of Islamic stucco glass windows in their original contexts in Ottoman Egypt.


Işın Taylan

Between Art and Science: Geographical Images in the Maʿrifetnāme

Ottoman geographical works were predominantly textual in the early modern period. Yet, some still embodied colorful images, such as diagrams, maps, and tables; like İbrāhīm Ḥaḳḳī Efendi of Erzurum’s Maʿrifetnāme (“The Book of Gnosis”) dating back to 1757. Encyclopedic in nature, Maʿrifetnāme addresses various fields of study, from astronomy to Sufism. This paper studies the Turkish MSS Suppl. 184 manuscript copy of Maʿrifetnāme at the Beinecke Library with respect to the aesthetics of its geographical images, such as the world maps, the illustrations of instruments and the astronomical tables, in the greater context of the relationship between material culture and science in the Ottoman Empire.

The double-sphered depiction of the world (typus orbis terrarum) and the illustration of the compass had acquired an emblematic position in the Ottoman atlas translations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These images play a salient role in Ottoman geographical works and are often presented as a more empirical and reliable means for acquiring geographical knowledge. Maʿrifetnāme reuses these images, side by side its mystical and religious content, pressingly calling for a contextual and material study of these depictions.

The neglect of the study of the images and text together constitutes an overarching issue in the historiography of the Islamic world and the Ottoman Empire. In line with the recent historiographical developments, I study the material aspects of the images in the Maʿrifetnāme Turkish MSS Suppl. 184, ranging from their place in the manuscript to their material and ornamental features (forms, coloring, written captions). Doing so, I demonstrate how certain geographical images, such as the world map, served a mnemonic role serving as a strong visual tool for understanding the world and consequently shaping the discipline of geography.


Sandra S. Williams

Gender Conceal and Reveal in Pre-Modern Persianate Painting

Romances and epics from the Persianate world are rife with scenes of heroes and lovers who disguise their physical appearances to achieve their desired goals, be it victory in battle or union with their beloved. Beyond serving as entertaining moments of mistaken identity, these scenes provide key insight into what was considered socially relevant to expressions of gender, race, and class in the pre-modern world. This paper examines the visual strategies artists generated, deployed, and at times broke with to translate scenes of gender switching from the literary into the visual. These critical moments of equivocation highlight which characteristics, such as dress, pose, and the presence and placement of hair, were deemed germane to gender differentiation. By analyzing three stories and images from the corpus of Persianate elite and popular culture—namely, Gurdafarid in Firdawsi’s Shahnama (“Book of Kings”), Humayun in her eponymous romance with Humay, and the Shi‘i hero-trickster ‘Amar-e Omayya in the Khavarannama (“Book of the East”)—I trace the social and cultural valences of gender masquerading and reversal as well as broader notions of “normative” self-presentation. These pictorial traditions also bring Persian painting and literature into dialogue with gender theory in order to scrutinize the conventions and nuances of gender and its representations in the pre-modern Persianate world.


Caroline Olivia Wolf

Building Modernism in the Mahjar: Art and Architectural Patronage of the Syrian-Lebanese Diaspora in Northwest Argentina

Despite its perception as a peripheral region in Latin America, the art and architectural patronage of Syrian and Lebanese immigrant-sponsored social clubs in Northwest Argentina in the early to mid-twentieth century was a key epicenter of the mahjar and modernism in the Americas. This paper examines how key buildings sponsored by this diaspora community, such as the Club Sirio-Libanés de San Juan (Syrian-Lebanese Club of San Juan), boldly infused stylistic elements associated with the Islamic world—such as mudéjar and arabesque motifs—into the modern architectural language of the region to craft a novel image of collective identity. Additionally, I explore how Arab Argentine visual artists, such as Bibí Zogbé, who exhibited their works within these spaces further fomented a public image of modernity associated with the diasporic community at these sites. Whether circulated in print imagery or embodied in the architecture of social clubs, these constructions represented their immigrant patrons, as well as the complex socio-economic trajectories and emergent nationalisms negotiated at the intersections of the local and global. By closely examining the patronage of the Arab diaspora in Argentina, I demonstrate how art and architecture served as a critical tool to craft new transnational identities while activating multiple mobilities in a nation where their presence was first contested.


Rebecca Wrightson

The Other Half: Reconstructing the Context of Epigraphic Ceramics in the Early Islamic World

The use of script as a decorative motif has long been regarded as one of the foremost characteristics of Islamic art. Epigraphic ceramic types such as black-on-white slip-painted ware and Fatimid lustre ware have become almost synonymous with Islamic art. Such ceramics now hold prominent places in museums across the globe, as well as in the literature of the history of Islamic art. They are lauded for their artistic achievements, technical advances, and sophisticated inscription content. However, through the creation of a digital epigraphic ceramic database, it has been possible to study the frequency of inscriptions and script styles based on the available material evidence. The compilation of over 2,000 epigraphic vessels and sherds makes clear that the aphorisms, signatures, and generally legible inscriptions most often represented constitute less than half of the epigraphic ceramics produced in the early Islamic period. Indeed, a substantial corpus of illegible, ambiguous, and patterned epigraphic forms are also present, though are generally underreported in the discipline. The widespread application of such inscriptions indicates that legibility was not required for their production, purchase, or use—the semblance of script was of prime importance. Moreover, the epigraphic wares of the period were probably not made for the highest echelons of society. They likely reflect the presence of an increasingly broad constituency—outside of the courtly class—that desired script or script-like decoration on their everyday possessions, including ceramic tableware. This new data therefore provides the means to examine epigraphic and artistic trends, as well as the widespread aestheticization of Arabic writing, amongst broader sections of society than are traditionally included in art historical surveys, and allows for a fuller examination of the varied and nuanced context of epigraphic objects in the early Islamic world.