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The Fourth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art Opens at the Museum of Islamic Art

October 29, 2011

Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in partnership Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and Qatar Foundation opened the Fourth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art on Saturday, 29 October at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha.

God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture is taking place at the MIA in Doha from 29 to 31 October, 2011 and is open to the public.

Widely considered the preeminent conference regarding Islamic art and culture, the three-day Symposium, God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, features 12 speakers, all leading scholars in Islamic art and architecture, from around the world whose papers will address objects held by the Museum of Islamic Art.

The keynote address was delivered shortly after the opening by Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and architecture critic for The New Yorker. Goldberger discussed the Museum itself as work of Islamic architecture in his talk titled, “Islamic Architecture, Modernism, and I.M. Pei: The Challenge of the Museum of Islamic Art.”

The Hamad Bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art is organized by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom who have shared the Hamad Bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at Virginia Commonwealth University since its establishment in 2006. God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty is co-sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Qatar Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar), the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) and the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

Speaking about the fellowships, organizers Bloom and Blair said when they decided to organize the first Symposium in 2004, they wondered who would come to it. “We realized the people who should be there might not be able to afford to come.” They broached the subject of inviting students and professors and decided to offer 10 fellowships. Qatar Foundation suggested 15 and the number has now increased to 20. “We try to get a range of people, young adults to retired people. They have to write an essay telling us why want to come.” The 20 artists for God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty were selected from around 200 applicants for the Hamad Bin Khalifa Travel Fellowships. They have also been invited to attend special events and will be awarded a Hamad Bin Khalifa Fellowship certificate.

Those selected for the fellowship include Abdul Lateef Usta, conservator, Rajasthan (India); Adel Adamova, curator of Islamic Art in the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (Russia); Ahmed Wahby, lecturer, The German University in Cairo; Alexandra van Puyvelde, museologist and scientific collaborator at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels; Elizabeth Ettinghausen, independent scholar, Princeton (New Jersey); Emily Neumeier, PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania; Fernando Martinez-Nespral, professor of the History of Architecture at the University of Buenos Aires’s School of Architecture; Filiz Yenisehirlioglu, Faculty of Fine Arts, Bakent University (Turkey); Khaled Tadmori, assistant professor, Faculty of Fine Arts and Architecture, Lebanese University and Laura Parodi, fellow, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT and Harvard University.

Other artists who have won the fellowship are Mahnaz Shayestehfar, Faculty of Art, Tarbiat Modarres University (Iran); Nourane Ben Azzouna, assistant curator, Louvre Abu Dhabi; Peter Wandel, assistant curator, The David Collection (Copenhagen); Rebecca Bridgman, curator of the Islamic Pottery collection, The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge; Said Ennahid, associate professor, Al Akhawayn University (Ifrane, Morocco); Sandra Aube, postdoctoral researcher and lecturer on Islamic Art; Simon O’Meara, material culture research fellow of the European Research Council funded project, ‘The Here and the Hereafter in Islamic Traditions’, hosted by the University of Utrecht; Simon Rettig, fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin in the research project Kosmos/Ornatus Ornamente als Erkenntnisformen Persien und Frankreich im Vergleich; Vivienne Angeles, associate professor of Religion, La Salle University (Philadelphia) and Wafaa Abdula Ali, lecturer, University of Mosul (Iraq).

“The fellows make up an impressive cross-section of scholars and curators in the field of Islamic art and culture and will, no doubt, add tremendous value to the symposium,” said Bloom and Blair. “Qatar is indeed at the center of an international movement to study Islamic Art”, they added.

When selecting the speakers for the Symposium, Bloom and Blair looked at the collection in the Museum of Islamic Art chronologically through centuries and countries, matching objects to scholars. “The speakers have picked their object and ask questions as broad as how these objects were preserved, if authenticity was affected, the nature of archaeology, and what can be found, among other questions” said Blair.

The speakers presenting on Sunday, 30 October are François Déroche: Of Volume and Skins; Julia Gonnella: The Stucco of Samarra; Antonio Vallejo Triano: Architectural Decoration in the Umayyad Caliphate of al-Andalus: The example of Madinat al-Zahra
Emilie Savage-Smith: The Stars in the Bright Sky: The Most Authoritative Copy of ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi’s 10th-century Guide to the Constellations; Ruba Kana’an: A Biography of a 13th-century Brass Ewer: the Social and Economic Lives of Mosul Metalwork and Kjeld von Folsach: As Precious as Gold – Some Woven Textiles from the Mongol Period.

“Scholars tend to speak in a language that is sometimes unintelligible,” said Bloom. “The Symposium aims to make what scholars do accessible to the general public and allow art to speak. The Symposium is going to go a long way in finding answers to questions,” he concluded.

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