12 November 2020

Thinking With | Wendy Shaw | What is 'Islamic' Art

CONVERSATION | Thursday 12 November | 15:00 - 17:00 CET | Online 

In this conversation, as part of the RCMC Thinking With series, Wendy M. K. Shaw discusses her work notably in her  book What is 'Islamic' Art: Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019). This event was also streamed live to our facebook page

What is 'Islamic' Art: Between Religion and Perception

What is art if the heart is the primary sensory organ? What is history when poetry transcends time? What is geography when wonders exceed the terrestrial? What is Islam if it begins in antiquity, breathes in the Bible, and breathes out the Qur'an? To whom does religion belong if it deactivates the past on which it claims to stake its legacy? What are the boundaries of media in transcultural understanding? What is 'Islamic' Art: Between Religion and Perception challenges the dominance of modern epistemic framework derived from European models in art history. Instead, it analyses theological, philosophical and poetic texts to develop a decolonial approach to the cultures of perception in Islam.

Wendy Shaw

Wendy M. K. Shaw (Ph.D. UCLA, 1999) is Professor of the Art History of Islamic cultures at the Free University Berlin. Her work focuses on postcolonial art historiography and decolonial art history of the Islamic world and the modern Middle East. She is author of Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (University of California Press, 2003), Ottoman Painting: Reflections of Western Art from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (IB Tauris, 2011), and Loving Writing: Techniques of Fact-based Communication at the University and Beyond (Routledge, forthcoming). HerWhat is “Islamic” Art: Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019) has been awarded Honorable Mention for the 2020 Albert Hourani Book Prize of the Middle East Studies Association. 


Discussant | Pooyan Tamimi Arab

Pooyan Tamimi Arab is an assistant professor of religious studies in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University and a member of the Utrecht Young Academy. He is part of the research project “Religious Matters in an Entangled World" (www.religiousmatters.nl).


Discussant | Mirjam Shatanawi

Drs. Mirjam Shatanawi is lecturer at the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam University of the Arts). Between 2001 and 2018, she worked as curator at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden and the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam. She is the author of Islam at the Tropenmuseum (2014). She has curated exhibitions on topics as wide-ranging as contemporary art from Iran, the global Sixties and the artistic encounter of the Dutch artist M.C. Escher with Islamic art. 


Moderator | Sarah Johnson

Dr. Sarah Johnson is curator of the Middle East and North Africa collections. Her research centres on modern and contemporary art from the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iraq, as well as on early Islamic objects, with a focus on metalwork. Her other research interests include intellectual histories of modernism in the region and provenance histories of Middle Eastern objects in museums.


Thinking With series

RCMC’s Thinking With is a conversational series that makes a commitment to a certain kind of collaborative criticality. This project complements several of our existing initiatives, as well as our attentiveness to the notion of “togetherness.” Thinking With arises out of the NMVW’s mission to contribute to world citizenship. For us, this ambition involves reflecting on how we might live with and among others in the world in more just and equitable ways, but also in ways that acknowledge that we do so ‘from’ drastically different subjectivities and vantage points. Thinking With then offers a form of joined-up problem solving that imagines a future that we can only fashion together. As such, Thinking With is a series that includes book talks, conversations with authors and makers, and specialists in the many fields that inform museum practice.

We draw on Mireille Rosello’s notion that companionship between and among societal actors, especially those who have different positions within our society, can only but be disorienting. Yet this companionship may, as Ariella Aïsha Azoulay suggests, provide us with methodologies to “unlearn imperialism.” For this reason, we actively seek out companions who challenge us, as an attempt not to reproduce ourselves, but to push ourselves and each other to create more equitable and just futures. This involves practices of de-centring, of provincializing ourselves, as we practice forms of worlding that take each other seriously.  Ultimately then, the Thinking With series takes companionship as an assemblage of people, objects, and texts, so that we courageously ask ourselves to think all of our social actors—animate and inanimate—as part of the entangled unequal  world we grapple with.  In so doing, the project explores the notion of companionship and disorientation, not to deepen hierarchies, but rather as a way of fostering a more humane and unprejudiced world.