Fall 04

(back to Lectures)


Sinan Antoon

Film: About Baghdad

Abstract

"About Baghdad is a stunning achievement, at once soulful and analytical, a veritable ode to Iraq. The filmmakers' return to Baghdad is far from being merely a geographical tour of post-Saddam Iraq; rather it is a voyage into the carnage inflicted on the psyche of a people abused by decades of massacre, rape, and torture, compounded by wars, sanctions, and occupation. Yet, the picture conjured up offers an ironic reflection on the dominant US discourse of a self-glamorizing rescue fantasy. Instead, the documentary promotes a complexly historicized perspective, told through the powerful narratives of a wide spectrum of Iraqis. Given the absence of Iraqi people speaking on the American media, About Baghdad provides a refreshing polyphony of Iraqi voices. Profoundly democratic in the true sense of the word, the film relays a non-monolithic representation of Iraqi people in terms of class, ethnic, religious, and gender, while also providing a full range of political perspectives, including communist, feminist and Islamicist. On trial are Saddam, the Ba'th party, Arab and Muslim governments, along with the US and other imperial powers that allowed, directly and indirectly, the prolonged mutilation of Iraq. Interweaving a variety of Iraqi traditional songs to underscore a point or to illuminate the painfully absurd aspects of Iraqi existence, this chronicle of a 2003 summer visit to Baghdad turns the film into an unforgettable instance of contemporary cinema verite." Professor Ella Habiba Shohat Author of Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality and Transnational Media New York University

Biography

Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist, filmmaker and translator. He studied English literature at Baghdad University before coming to the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. He did his graduate studies at Georgetown and Harvard where he is a PhD candidate in Arabic literature. His poems and articles (in Arabic and English) have appeared in an-Nahar, as-Safir, Masharef, al-Adab, The Nation, Middle East Report, al-Ahram Weekly and Banipal. He has published a collection of poems entitled Mawshur Muballal bil-Huroob (A Prism; Wet with Wars, Mirit Books, Cairo) and a novel I`jam (Diacritics) (Dar al-Adab, Beirut). His poems were anthologized in Iraqi Poetry Today.

Antoon returned to Iraq in 2003 as a member of InCounter Productions to film a documentary about the lives of Iraqis in a post-Saddam occupied Iraq. He is a senior editor with the Arab Studies Journal, a member of Pen America and a contributing editor to Banipal. His translations of modern Arabic poetry have appeared in two anthologies of Mahmud Darwishís poetry (The Adam of Two Edens) and (Unfortunately It Was Paradise) published by Syracuse and Berkeley and in various journals including Banipal and The Nation. He currently teaches Arabic and Arabic literature at Dartmouth College.


Holly Edwards

"The Afghan Girl' in Transnational Visual Culture"

Abstract

This paper will trace the peregrinations of Steve McCurry's photograph "The Afghan Girl" from its publication on the cover of National Geographic Magazine in 1985 up to the present day.   Widely disseminated and variously captioned, the image has become the icon of diverse entities including a people, a country, a photographer and a human rights campaign.    These myriad meanings map the process by which American values infiltrate transnational culture and simultaneously reflect the nature of contemporary American orientalism.


Munir Jiwa

"Aestheticizing politics and politicizing aesthetics: Visual artists and the cultural production of Muslim identities in NYC"

Abstract

My research explores the works and lives of Muslim visual artists in New York City. Working with artists is a means for understanding the particular challenges faced by Muslims in the West in constructing their identities and relationship to an Islamic tradition. For most Muslims in the United States, 9/11 has become a significant marker of time in thinking about issues of Muslim identity. In my research, I look specifically at how the events of 9/11 impacted the development of the category, ?Muslim artists.? Beginning with the art and art worlds within which these artists primarily work, socialize and identify professionally and personally, I explore the ways Muslim artists are not only contesting art world boundaries in terms of new and emerging forms of identification, but also the various sites where they are being forged. Artists? identification as Muslims is one of many identities and their own narratives and experiences caution against thinking about them and their work as part of an isolated identity or community. Shifts in the art worlds after 9/11, including new exhibits on Muslim artists, reinforce how identity becomes central to their art practices.

By tracking the circulation and consumption of visual art, my research also explores how institutions and processes connected to particular social spheres produce, shape and represent various identities. Muslim artists raise critical questions relevant to art world boundaries, as much as they explore new ways of thinking about being Muslim, not as a theological or aesthetic unity, but as a minority identification in the West, that has becoming increasingly public post-9/11. The convergence of Muslims of different persuasions after 9/11 demonstrates the influence of external forces on the shaping of identity and communities, and which I argue is the domesticating of Islam and Muslims in the United States.

Biography

Munir Jiwa is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Aga Khan Program at MIT. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University. His interests include Islam and Muslims in the West, art, aesthetics, cultural production, museums, media, identity, representation, minorities, migration, postcolonialism, cosmopolitanism, and religious pluralism, and has taught widely in these areas. In addition, he has worked extensively with the United Nation?s World Conference on Religions for Peace interfaith youth programs in Bosnia, Japan, Middle East and West Africa. He has also worked with the Ford funded Muslims in New York City Project at Columbia University since 1998.


Annalinda Neglia

"Mediterranean cities: Aleppo. Forms of the city intra moenia "

Abstract

The urban fabric of Aleppo is profoundly stratified. For a long time the city was a kind of 'borderland' and hence the repository of diverse cultures. Thus its urban-scape represents a place of permanence for many signs and meanings, a place of an intimate relation between city and history.

It is not simply the presence of historic buildings and archaeological finds that makes this relation clear: the urban structure itself conserves marked traces of its past, which may be deciphered by a structural reading of the building fabric.

This 'horizontal' reading is achieved by deconstructing the urban fabric in order to reconstruct its forms, trace its geometric laws and the ideas corresponding to each phase of its construction, and to rediscover the elements of the duality, or polarity, between the permanence of its signs and the variation of its meanings, that has shaped, physically and intellectually, the urban-scape.

From such a reading emerges the difficulty of speaking of a unified, clearly defined and relatively immutable forma urbis for Aleppo; rather we must speak of the different phases that have brought with them different forms and ideas of the city through time.

For Aleppo, in fact, the urban growth was not based on a single idea of the city that saw it grow in a homogeneous way from its Seleucid foundation to the present day, but came about through the superimposition in time of forms and plans, which while strictly linked to the place, differed widely in their idea of the city.

Biography

Annalinda Neglia is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Aga Khan Program at MIT. She received a Masters in Architecture from the Politecnico di Bari, Italy. Her thesis was entitled Morphological and Typological Renovation Process of Islamic Architecture: Urban Fabric and Courtyard Houses in Jerusalem .

In July 2003, she completed her Ph.D. in Architectural Design for the Mediterranean Countries at the Politecnico studying under Professor Attilio Petruccioli, former Aga Khan Professor at MIT. Her dissertation was entitled Mediterranean Cities: Aleppo. Forms and Types of the City Intra Moenia .

Annalinda Neglia is the recipient of several grants which she used for research on Islamic architecture.

Her post-doctoral studies at the Aga Khan Program MIT will focus upon local dialectical process of transformation of the building fabric of Crusader castles during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.


Bethany Walker

"Rural-Imperial Relations in Medieval Jordan: An Architectural Perspective from Tall Hisban"

Abstract

Renewed excavations of Tall Hisban in central Jordan have revealed a series of public and private complexes from the Mamluk period. A combination of archival and archaeological research suggests the multi-layered roles they played within Jordanian society and between that society and the Mamluk state. As a district capital, tribal center, and agricultural market, the village's prosperity and security depended on a careful balance between what appear to be competing interests.

This evening's lecture highlights the multiple functions of the so-called qusur of Hisban in the fourteenth century C.E. The relationship, in particular, between the citadel complex of Field L and the farmsteads of Field C serves to illustrate the complex web of social, economic, and political relationships that existed between the Mamluks' rural periphery and Cairo.

Biography

Dr. Bethany Walker is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History at Grand Valley State University. She is Co-Director and Chief Archaeologist for the Madaba Plains Project excavations of Tall Hisban and Director of the Northern Jordan Survey. She has previously done fieldwork in Egypt, Yemen, Cyprus, and Greece.

A specialist in the Mamluk period, Dr. Walker received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in Middle East and Islamic Studies in 1998. Her research interests have focused on the economic and social transformations in the eastern Mediterranean in the late medieval period. Her current research is concerned with agriculture in medieval Jordan and Middle and Late Islamic ceramic typologies in the southern Levant. Dr. Walker's most recent work has been published in Mamluk Studies Review , Near Eastern Archaeology , and the Journal of Near Eastern Studies . Her Heshbon 9: The Islamic Strata (for Andrews University Press) and a monograph on Mamluk Transjordan (using archaeological, archival, and environmental data) are in progress.


Ethel Sara Wolper

"Images of Sufi leaders in Ottoman and Safavid Manuscripts"

Abstract

Shams al-Din Aflaki wrote a life of Jalal al-Din Rumi (Manaqib al-`arifn) in the fourteenth century. In later centuries, this text became very popular and was re-written, edited, expanded and translated into Turkish. As part of this trend, the manuscript was lavishly illustrated with images from the life of Rumi and his adepts. The three known illustrations of this text-one of the Persian text and two of the Turkish translation-were painted in sixteenth century Baghdad. During this period, Baghdad artists illustrated other Sufi work with images of Sufi leaders. Importantly, the character of these illustrations was a dramatic

change from the previous century when images of dervishes were usually anonymous and confined to two types: dervishes with begging bowls or hermits living in caves. Although large numbers of these illustrations were produced in Ottoman Baghdad, the phenomenon of newly illustrated Sufi texts that created recognizable portraits of Sufi saints occurred in many places in the Islamic world of the sixteenth century.This paper focuses on these Sufi images and the manuscripts in which they appear to ask a series of questions about the role of painting and book production in the legitimation of Sufi communities.

Biography

Ethel Sara Wolper is an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire who focuses on Islamic Art and Sufism.    She received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in Art History and an M.A. from the University of Chicago, also in Art History. She is a core member of the Sufi and Society Project and has recently finished a book entitled, Saints and Cities: Sufism and the Transformation of Urban Space in Medieval Anatolia.   She is presently preparing a manuscript entitled   "Khidr and the Politics of Place" which explores the role of this legendary figure in transforming world views. She has also presented papers and published articles on the role of the architect in Seljuk art, charity and architecture, women and sufism, and Sufi images in later medieval Islamic art.