Repositioning the Past in the Arts of Islamicate Societies I: Islamic Art in Europe and Australia

8 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, University of Sydney
Dr Wulan Dirgantoro, University of Melbourne

Session Moderators

Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Samantha Happé, University of Melbourne
Professor Mary Roberts, University of Sydney
Nur Shkembi, University of Melbourne

Historicism, as an artistic practice with a regard for past forms and styles, has commonly been discussed in Islamic art and architecture in the post-1800 period, especially in relation to “archaeological historicism”, revival styles (i.e. Mamluk Revival, Neo-Achaemenid, etc.), and traditionalism. This panel aims to expand the question of conscious treatments of the past both temporally and conceptually, posing the following questions: how has the past – not merely historical forms and styles but also the idea of history itself – been treated in art and art writing? How do we think about historicism in relation to cross-culturalism? Who did the past belong to, and as a corollary, how does cross-cultural historicism relate to nationalism, transnationalism, and the vexed terms “impact” and “influence”? How do our interpretations of art and material culture that reference the past relate to the reception of the art after its production, or to its contemporaneity? Part of a series of sessions, this panel will focus on the complexities of cross-cultural encounters from the early modern period to the present, exploring gift exchange, patterns of collecting, and the predicament of Islamic art in Europe and Australia.

PAPER #1
Symbols of sovereignty: Re-evaluating Safavid gifts to the court in Versailles

PRESENTER
Samantha Happé, University of Melbourne

In 1715, Persian ambassador Mehmet Reza Beg arrived at Versailles amidst a display of French splendour. The Beg brought with him gifts for King Louis XIV: a casket containing pearls, turquoise, and mumia. These gifts from Shah Sultan Husayn were a symbolic gesture, paying respect to the French king and acknowledging him as a monarch of equivalent rank, aiming to establish a relationship on equal footing. They were not received that way. The French court were indignant with the perceived poverty of the gifts, seeing them as evidence that the Beg was a fraud, or that the Shah was deliberately disrespectful. This misunderstanding has persisted for three centuries, tainting the perception of this cross-cultural diplomatic encounter. This paper aims to shed light on this transcultural diplomatic exchange and rebalance perceptions of power relations between Safavid Persia and France by employing an object-based methodology to reinterpret the ensemble of gifts presented by Mehmet Reza Beg. By contextualising the Persian royal gifts within historical Islamic traditions of gift exchange, the important symbolic significances of the Persian gifts can be revealed. Gifts exchanged at moments of diplomatic contact mediate communication to express complex relationships; French ignorance of Islamic gift-exchange protocols sabotaged this encounter.

PAPER #2
An unstable history of the collector’s interior

PRESENTER
Professor Mary Roberts, University of Sydney

Orientalist interiors were entangled with the avant-garde’s anxious articulation of modernity, from Edgar Allan Poe to Filippo Marinetti in his “Futurist Manifesto.” Søren Kierkegaard, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno each invoked orientalist interiors as foundational metaphors for the modern subject. These spaces also belong to a history of Islamic art, embedded in its collecting history through networks of global modernity. This paper excavates the decisive place of the orientalist interior in modern art and literature and poses the question: why has art history underestimated these potent thresholds?
Polish artist Stanislaw Chlebowski’s Istanbul interiors exemplify the complexities of an artistic subject position forged between several national art histories. Appointed as palace painter to Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz, Chlebowski multitasked between interiors, simultaneously creating visual historicism for Ottoman and Polish patrons while sourcing Islamic art for prominent European collectors. The formation and strategic use of his interiors are related to his working life in Istanbul, which was determined by Ottoman patronage. The orientalist rooms of expatriates like Chlebowski reveal an unstable history of the Islamic art collector’s interior, attuned to patterns of global modernity. What lessons are here for understanding the connections between orientalist art and patterns of collecting Islamic art in Australia?

PAPER #3
Destiny disrupted: the future history of contemporary Islamic Art in Australia

PRESENTER
Nur Shkembi, University of Melbourne

In Western art history, Islamic art has been categorised within a traditional Orientalist frame, replete with colonial boundaries and Eurocentric archaeological matrix which all but relegated Islamic art as being a collection of objects set within a fixed geography and era. However, in more recent years, the hyper-globalisation of the contemporary art world and the increased visibility of “Muslimness” post 9/11 has ruptured the linear historical readings of Islamic art with a movement of art that is emerging from contemporary artists in the West. With the growing number of local and diaspora artists claiming their Islamic heritage beyond the borders of their birthplace, the Orientalist binary that once contained Islam to the “East” is now struggling with the reality of Western Muslims in the contemporary era. The inevitable ‘disruption’ and subsequent ‘renovation’ of the Western art history canon is one which must encompass the perspectives of contemporary artists reclaiming their Islamic heritage in the present. This paper draws on the work of contemporary artists such as Khaled Sabsabi and Shireen Taweel as a chronicle for the future history of Islamic art in Australia.


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Biographies

Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, University of Sydney

Peyvand Firouzeh (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Lecturer in Islamic Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. She specializes in medieval and early modern art and architecture of the Islamic world, with a focus on sacred architecture, its intersections with poetry and politics, and artist networks in Persianate societies across the Indian Ocean. Peyvand has held research and curatorial positions with the Getty Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies, at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (Max-Planck-Institut), the Forum Transregionale Studien and Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, and the British Museum in London.


Dr Wulan Dirgantoro, University of Melbourne

Dr Wulan Dirgantoro is a researcher of modern and contemporary Indonesian art. Her research focus looks at the intersection between feminism, trauma, memory and artmaking in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. She is the author of “Feminisms and Indonesian Contemporary Art: Defining Experiences” (2017). She was part of “Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art”, a research pro¬¬gram funded through the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative. Wulan has also taught at MA Asian Art Histories program at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore and until recently was a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne.


Samantha Happé, University of Melbourne

Samantha Happé is a doctoral candidate in the Art History department at the University of Melbourne specialising in the study of Persian material exchange through the early modern period. Her current research project examines the role of the gift in negotiating Franco-Persian diplomatic relationships in the early eighteenth century through privileging the object in transcultural encounters.


Professor Mary Roberts, University of Sydney

Mary Roberts, Professor of Art History, University of Sydney, specialises in nineteenth-century European and Ottoman art with particular interest in artistic exchanges, histories of collecting, and the ways Orientalist images are mediated. Her book, Istanbul Exchanges: Ottomans, Orientalists and Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture (University of California Press, 2015), was awarded the AAANZ Book Prize and translated into Turkish in 2016. Her first book was Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature, (Duke, 2007) and she has co-edited four other books. Her next book is Four Thresholds: Orientalist Interiors, Islamic Art, the Aesthetics of Global Modernities.


Nur Shkembi, University of Melbourne

Nur Shkembi is a Melbourne (Naarm) based curator and writer currently undertaking a PhD in the Department of Art History at the University of Melbourne. As a curator, Nur has produced over 150 exhibitions, community engagement projects and was a founding member of the Islamic Museum of Australia, serving as the museum’s inaugural Art Director and foundation Curator. Nur is a Centre Fellow at CoVA, academic teacher and guest lecturer for the Masters of Art Curatorship course at the University of Melbourne, and lecturer for the Masters of Gallery and Museum Management at RMIT University. www.nurshkembi.com