Qur'anic Evidence: Harar and its Red Sea Manuscript culture. - Sana Mirza
Although largely unknown to historians, a large corpus of Qur’an manuscripts produced in the city of Harar, in present-day eastern Ethiopia, provides rich material with which to consider diachronic circuits of artistic exchange in the Red Sea. A major center of manuscript production in the Horn of Africa, Harar produced hundreds of codices between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest Harari Qur’an manuscripts and religious poetic texts employ decorative styles associated with the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt, Syria and Arabia from 1250 to 1517. The later resonance of these earlier Mamluks styles in Ethiopia suggests complicated artistic relationships that span the late medieval and early modern periods.
Sana Mirza's paper will investigate the shared artistic forms of Egyptian, Western Arabian and Harari manuscripts. These aesthetic connections offer testimony to the mobility of artistic forms and its role in the formation of interrelated manuscript cultures. They also raise questions about the perpetuation and transmission of older, perhaps archaic, decorative forms. Situated at a crucial moment of transition, these manuscripts appear to look back to earlier trends. Although generally neglected, they reveal the operation of multidirectional and nuanced artistic networks that, however paradoxically, were crucial to the construction of a distinctive Harari manuscript tradition.