This is a past event
Fayerweather Hall, Pruyne Lecture Hall (115)

Devotional depictions of the Prophet Muhammad made between 1300 and 1600 CE have long served as core content in university courses surveying the history of Islamic art. In such pedagogical settings, professors introduce students to a range of pictorial materials, fine-tuning exercises in visual analysis and discussing the role of figural imagery in Islamic lands across the centuries. Over the past two years, however, three events have challenged the display and teaching of these images: first, the debacle at Hamline University, where administrators mislabeled premodern Turco-Persian paintings of the Prophet as “Islamophobic,” leading to the non-renewal of an adjunct faculty member; and second, the Asia Society Museum’s blurring of several such images in a virtual tour of an exhibition; and third, an Islamist "crashing" of an Istanbul art exhibition that included modern calligraphies and images dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad. All three incidents placed art historians and artists in the crosshairs, while Islamic paintings of the Prophet themselves became the targets of pietistic superscripts, of motions to dismiss, and of Islamist attacks, the latter of which were countered and mocked within a Muslim cultural context. This talk explores all three episodes in order to identify and disambiguate the various machineries and matrices of meaning-making within global identitarian politics as these intersect with—and even endanger—Islamic paintings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Christiane Gruber is professor of Islamic art and former chair in the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan, as well as founding director of Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online. Her scholarly work explores medieval to contemporary Islamic art, especially figural representation, depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, manuscripts and book arts, architecture, and modern visual and material cultures. Her two most recent publications include The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, and her public-facing
essays have appeared in Newsweek, The Conversation, New Lines, Jadaliyya and Prospect Magazine, among others.

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