Islamic Art: Disrupting Unity and Discerning Ruptures

In the last decade, the field of Islamic art history has begun the process of re-thinking its visual-cultural borders and re-organizing its visual material. Islamic art history suffers identity crisis. The discipline finds itself between outer and inner pressures. On one hand, there is an impulse from advocates for global art history to subsume every art production, including Islamic art, within its framework. On the other hand, scholars within the field of Islamic art debate several issues at once: redefining 'Islamic art' in a less essentialist terms; examining more in depth its religious foundations; and even the breaking of the field into subfields. It is widely accepted that the 19th-century ethnographic gaze complicated the picture. Operating at the time when non-Western arts were classified and given a space of action in the historical narrative of civilization, ethnographers deconstructed ethnicities on a racial and, more problematic, hierarchic order while, concomitantly endowing Islamic art with a monolithic character in an attempt at once to bind it to and isolate it from the western artistic evolutionary thread.

A cry for subdivision of the field is heard again and again, as if this might bring a solution to the dispute. The renaming of the Islamic Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the creation of new academic positions for the study of the Ottoman, Arab, or the Mediterranean visual culture of Islam bear witness to this contemporary notion. This series of lectures addresses these issues by scoring the particular moments of ruptures in the historiography of the field that fractured its foundations.

January 29:

Esra Akcan (Cornell University): "How Modern was made 'Islamic': Recruiting a category for late 20th-century architecture in the Middle East"

February 26:

Walid Raad (Cooper Union): "Scratching on things I could disavow: From the Louvre's Département des Arts de l'Islam"

April 2

Nada Shabout (University of North Texas): "Modernities: Discontent and Alliances" with discussant Zainab Bahrani (Columbia University)