Repositioning the Past in the Arts of Islamicate Societies II: Modernity, Contemporary Practice, and Historical Inquiry

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

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

Session Moderators

Dr Wulan Dirgantoro, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Narjis Mirza, Auckland University of Technology
Associate Professor Sarena Abdullah, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Anissa Rahadiningtyas, National Gallery of Singapore
Fatemah Alqahtani, RMIT, 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 bring together voices from practicing artists, curators, and art historians who deal with historical aspects of modern and contemporary Islamic art, and in particular, questions related to gender and mysticism.

PAPER #1
Images and the Imaginal, Ta’wil in Art Practices of Light

PRESENTER
Narjis Mirza, Auckland University of Technology

This art research aims to provoke an imaginative understanding beyond the visibly apparent using ta’wil, an ancient method of interpretation in Islamic thought that performs in both material and immaterial forms. Through installation art, I explore light (together with animation, projection, voice and textile,) as a medium with metaphysical resonance. Ta’wil influences my observations, making, and recordings of light, and initiates a transcendental movement in my artwork, according to one’s potential to be affected. I work with Arabic huroof, letters and the mysterious fawatih of the Quran, that appear as bodies of light projected onto delicate fabric with fragrance and light-bearing qualities. A sonic space is marked through these letters’ voicing, and when the seer enters the installation space, their body is inscribed with light and calligraphy. The major body of work for this research is titled Hayakal al Noor, Bodies of Light (2021). Philosophically, Islamic mystic Shihab ud Deen Suhrawardi’s [1154-1191] concept of Aalam al Mithal, the Imaginal, inspires my art practice. In the wake of social and political tensions that attempt to ‘extinguish the light of Being’, my aspiration for this research is to increase inter-cultural efforts of understanding and respect for different modes of being.

PAPER #2
Early Malay and Islamic Art Exhibitions: Manifestations, Discourses and Art Works by Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011) and Sulaiman Esa (1941-)

PRESENTER
Associate Professor Sarena Abdullah, Universiti Sains Malaysia

Although there were many Malaysian artists whose work employed or adopted Malay/Islamic aesthetic approaches and subject matter, two artists stand out -- Syed Ahmad Jamal and Sulaiman Esa. Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011) was the first Director of the University of Malaya Cultural Center before becoming the Director of National Art Gallery in 1983, a position that he held until his retirement in 1991. Sulaiman Esa (1941-) completed his MFA and later did his PhD in Islamic Studies at the Temple University, Philadelphia (1986-1996). Both of these artists were very influential as they both have organized and curated several art exhibitions and produced various writings on Malay and Islamic art. This paper will draw on four exhibitions by the two artists: Rupa dan Jiwa (1979) and Pameran Seni Lukis & Seni Khat: Pameran Tamaddun Islam (1984) curated by Syed Ahmad Jamal, and Identiti Islam Dalam Senirupa Malaysia: Pencapaian dan Cabaran (1992), Manifestasi Jiwa Islam dalam Senirupa Malaysia Sezaman (1993), and Art & Spirtuality (1995) curated by Sulaiman Esa. This paper will also analyse a few artworks by Syed Ahmad Jamal and Sulaiman Esa that reflect the shift in their modern art practice towards Malay art and Islamic elements and spirituality.

PAPER #3
Arahmaiani: Nomadic Reparation Projects, Environmentalism, and Global Islam

PRESENTER
Anissa Rahadiningtyas, National Gallery of Singapore

Proyek Bendera (Flag Project), a nomadic, community-based project started by Arahmaiani (b. 1961, Bandung, Indonesia) in 2006, represents the artist’s commitment to environmentalism and her concerns on feminism and global Islam. Arahmaiani’s reputation and active participation in global contemporary art exhibitions since the 1990s and her intense focus on social and political issues that impact women have put her at the front and center of research and publications on contemporary art from the Global South. Numerous scholarships, reviews, and essays have justifiably positioned her works among other feminist projects in the secular development of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia and Asia. This paper will discuss Arahmaiani’s Proyek Bendera, a series of site-specific and collaborative performances with religious communities in Yogyakarta and Tibet through the lens of reparative feminism and interreligious environmentalism. I argue that Arahmaiani’s concern for environmental issues in her activist-oriented and community-based collaborative works is an extension of her commitment as a Muslim to transcultural and interreligious dialogues that could (re)generate reparative readings toward Islam and Muslims and redress the violence imposed by modernity and coloniality.

PAPER #4
Aesthetic revelation: receiving and transmitting Shafi'i mysticism through Alqatt art

PRESENTER
Fatemah Alqahtani, RMIT, Melbourne

This paper explores the spiritual dimension of alqatt art, the iconic art form practiced by Asiri female artists in Saudi Arabia’s southwest region of Asir. Currently, the majority of the Asir region belongs to the Hanbali School of Islamic doctrine. However, older generations of Asir people still maintain the spirit of the Shafi'i doctrine which prevailed in Asir before the propagation of Hanbalism. This paper investigates the high levels of intense mysticism and spirituality that alqatt art involves and the aesthetic motivation behind it. It argues that the reason for linking Shaafa'i with mysticism is that Imam Shafi'i (the leader of the Shafi'i school), was well versed in other arts as well as his religious knowledge. His spiritual poetry and literature, describing the relationship of the human with divinity, is rife with spiritual elation, and still present in the mindset of Asir. An analysis of alqatt artworks produced by Asiri female artists shows that this art is permeated with a mystical dimension, and allows the artist to pay attention to both the essence and appearance of the artwork, which is full of symbolic references. This in turn reveals what remains and what has been lost of their Shafi'i rituals.

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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 program 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, a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne.


Narjis Mirza, Auckland University of Technology

Narjis Mirza is an installation artist and a PhD candidate at Auckland University of Technology. Her practice-led research brings together Islamic philosophy, performative participation in installation art practices and spatial experiments of light. Narjis plans to expand the dialogue through concept films and light installations, she is also the recipient of the Vice Chancellors Doctoral Scholarship. Narjis completed her masters’ degree in media and design from Bilkent University Ankara. She also received distinction for her bachelor’s in fine arts at the National College of Arts in Pakistan. Narjis lives and works in Sydney and Auckland.


Associate Professor Sarena Abdullah, Universiti Sains Malaysia

Sarena Abdullah, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Art History at School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). She was awarded the inaugural London Asia Research Award, by Paul-Mellon Centre, London and Asia Art Archive (2017). She was also the recipient of the CAA-Getty Travel Grant as part of the CAA-Getty International Program. She is the author of Malaysian Art since the 1990s: Postmodern Situation (2018) and co-editor of a publication of Southeast Asian Art entitled Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art 1945-1990 (2018). She had written extensively on Malaysian art on various academic journals and platforms.


Anissa Rahadiningtyas, National Gallery of Singapore

Anissa Rahadiningtyas is an art historian and curator of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia and Islamic Southeast Asia. She received her B.F.A. and M.A. from Institut Teknologi Bandung in 2008 and 2012 before pursuing her Ph.D. from the History of Art and Visual Studies Department at Cornell University from 2013-2021. She was a 2019 fellow at Cornell Digital Collections in Arts and Sciences and has held the position of Curatorial Assistant of the Asian Art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum (2020-2021). Her interests include postcolonial theory, Indian Ocean studies, comparative modernisms, and Islamic studies.


Fatemah Alqahtani, RMIT, Melbourne

Fatemah Alqahtani is a PhD researcher and artist who expresses her intellectual longing for creative ideas through creative practices. Alqahtani has been an exhibiting artist since 2007, presented her artworks in Saudi Arabia, Australia and China. Also, she has been lecturing in the visual arts at the PNU University in Riyadh KSA since 2012. In part, her art is a reflection of her identity as a Saudi artist who is influenced by a modern Islamic art movement, especially art of a Muslim woman who belongs to a conservative Islamic society.