"FIRST IMPRESSIONS: PRINT MEDIA IN THE MODERN ISLAMIC WORLD"
Friday, April 9th
Part of the Silsila Spring 2021 Lecture Series, Translations
The first examples of print in the Islamic world, in the form of block print amulets and scrolls, date to the tenth century. From those early productions until the present, various printing technologies and practices have played an important role in Islamic art and visual culture, particularly during the 19th-century when lithography and new engraving methods shaped the technologies of image making. Despite the central role printing plays in producing, circulating, and disseminating visual material and expressions in the Islamic world, studies of print culture rarely feature in textbooks or surveys on Islamic art. One reason is the medium’s resistance to traditional fine art categories: print is a mechanical technology as well as an art form. It also crosses media borders in other ways. As print operates in multiples, the old art historical model centered on the “original” artwork does not apply in studies of printed images and texts.
In Islamic art history, studies of printing and its spread largely focus on surviving medieval examples, cross-cultural encounters, and the introduction of the modern press, and less on the persistent evolution and generative power of this artistic technology. This panel proposes a reframing of how the field addresses the medium of printing by centering the art form as a driving force in image production and artistic developments in the modern Islamic world. The papers will discuss different examples of printing visual culture, from engraved portraits, to photographic postcards, lithographed illustrated periodicals, and examples of contemporary printmaking and popular devotional prints. Such printed images offer new material for the study of visual materials and cultural practices in the modern Islamic world.
12.00-12.05 Introduction, Finbarr Barry Flood, Silsila/NYU
12.05-12.30 Mira Schwerda, Harvard University, "The Mirror of the Unseen: The Beginnings of Celebrity Culture and the Iranian Constitutionalist Press"
12.30-12.55 Hala Auji, American University of Beirut, "Facing Pages: Portraiture and Authorship in the Age of Print"
12.55-1.20 Yasemin Gencer, Indiana University, "Portrait Photography, Image, and Modernity in Turkish Journals of the 1920s"
1.20-1.45 Aditi Chandra, University of California-Merced, "The Traveler’s Archive: Postcards as Partial Souvenirs"
1.45-2.10 Elizabeth Rauh, UMich Ann Arbor, "The Colored Horizons of Karbala: Rafa Nasiri and New Printmaking in Modern Iraq"
2.10-2.45 Questions and Discussion
Title: The Mirror of the Unseen: The Beginnings of Celebrity Culture and the Iranian Constitutionalist Press
Abstract: Whereas formerly mirrors for princes had been produced at great expense to educate only the ruler in Iran, at the beginning of the twentieth century newspapers had become the mirror of the nation and took on its education. This process involved introducing the public to actors and goals of the new Constitutionalist movement. A plethora of photographic and lithographed images portraying revolutionary politicians and other figures important to the movement were soon introduced and collected. This intertwined history of political revolution and celebrity culture becomes especially apparent in the lithographed portraits and satirical cartoons featured in journals such as 'Abd al-Rahim Kashani’s aptly named satirical weekly A’īna-yi Ghaybnumā’ (Mirror of the Unseen). The Constitutionalist portraiture presented in the journal was further complemented by a number of photographic picture postcards circulated by the same publisher. While Constitutionalist journals have so far been mainly discussed as vehicles of political criticism through verbal and visual satire, I will demonstrate how the journals also worked as a catalyst for what can be called the beginnings of celebrity culture in modern Iran.
Bio: Mira Xenia Schwerda (PhD, Harvard) teaches early modern and modern Middle Eastern and South Asian art history at the University of Edinburgh. Her book manuscript-in-progress focuses on the Iranian Constitutional Revolution as a visual history of political change brought about by the triad of the telegraph, printing press, and photography. She is a co-founder of the Virtual Islamic Art History Seminar Series, a founding member of the digital pedagogy initiative "Khamseen," and the digital exhibitions curator for Ajam Archive.
Title: Facing Pages: Portraiture and Authorship in the Age of Print
Abstract: Portraiture in the Islamic world has been explored across an array of media and artistic practices, from painting to photography. Yet, we still have much to learn about printed portraits, produced through a variety of printing and photographic practices, and the artists who made them. Through a study of posthumous author portraits of Syrian scholar Nasif al-Yaziji (1800-1871) printed at various presses in Beirut during the late nineteenth century, this talk considers the ways in which printing practices crossed, and blurred, media boundaries while exemplifying shifting views on authors and authorship.
Bio: Hala Auji is an assistant professor of art history at the American University of Beirut where she teaches courses on the art, architecture, and material culture of the Middle East and the Islamic world. Her work focuses on the visual dimensions of modernity in the eastern Mediterranean, including print culture, book history, museum practices, and portraiture. Her research has been published in numerous venues including the Review of Middle East Studies, Visible Language, and the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. She is the author of Printing Arab Modernity: Book Culture and the American Press in Nineteenth-Century Beirut (Brill, 2016).
Title: Portrait Photography, Image, and Modernity in Turkish Journals of the 1920s
Abstract: This paper explores print and portrait photography’s joint roles in promoting and representing modern lifestyles, practices, and values in the early years of the Turkish Republic. Specifically, it focuses on popular portrait photography competitions organized by illustrated gazettes to examine how the happy marriage of these technologies incentivized reader participation with the (modern) promise of visual/virtual inclusion.
Bio: Yasemin Gencer is an Affiliate Scholar at Indiana University’s Institute for Advanced Study as well as Content Coordinator of Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online. She teaches Islamic Art at Wayne State University and authors an online research blog entitled Today in 1920s Turkey.
Title: The Traveler’s Archive: Postcards as Partial Souvenirs
Abstract: The era that saw the rise and rapid dissemination of the picture postcard (1890-1920), was also the heyday of colonialism. British authorities permitted postcard companies to set up stalls within Delhi’s Islamic monuments, which were being transformed into tourist monuments. I juxtapose idyllic postcards—souvenirs tourists bought at Delhi’s Islamic monuments—with tourists’ anxiety-ridden experiences at the same locations. While traditionally thought to “authenticate the experience of the viewer,” the souvenir absents troubling encounters and is “at best, partial” (Susan Stewart). I argue that postcards do not simply help remember, but rather also help forget. I create a category—the “traveler’s archive”—which includes postcards, photographs, guidebooks, and experiences at the site. Delhi’s Islamic monuments disrupt state authority, when viewed through the lens of the “traveler’s archive.” The forgetfulness of the postcard shows the failure of the tourist monument in functioning effectively as a comfortable space of leisure.
Bio: Aditi Chandra is Assistant Professor of art history at the University of California, Merced. She has been a Scholar-in-Residence at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in 2013 and a recipient of the 2019-20 UC President’s Faculty Research Fellowship. Her current work examines how landscaping, site museums, the dissemination of postcards, and the eviction of refugees transformed Delhi’s Sultanate and Mughal architecture into modern tourist monuments in the 19th and 20th centuries while simultaneously excluding marginalized groups. She has published and curated exhibitions of visual material on this subject.
Title: The Colored Horizons of Karbala: Rafa Nasiri and New Printmaking in Modern Iraq
Abstract: This presentation looks to Rafa Nasiri’s (1940-2013) printmaking practice and its early experimentation with popular votive and calligraphic print media as the locus from which he stimulated and historicized the new graphic arts movement in Iraq. By imprinting his compositions with votive woodblock prints produced during Muharram, Nasiri elicited collective memories of communal rituals and mourning ceremonies while simultaneously anchoring his new works within Iraq’s vernacular printing techniques and their particular history. These prints demonstrate how Rafa Nasiri marshaled local print cultures and sociopolitical traditions to depict popular expressions of the metaphoric horizons of Karbala.
Bio: Elizabeth Rauh (PhD, University of Michigan, 2020) is an art historian specializing in modern arts and visual cultures of Iran, Iraq, and the Arab East. Her research examines the history of artist engagements with Islamic heritage, popular image practices in Shi`i Islam, and arts of the twentieth-century “Shi`i Left.” She also explores ecological art practices in the history of Iraq and the Persian Gulf, such as in her forthcoming study: “Experiments in Eden: Midcentury Artist Voyages into the Mesopotamian Marshlands” (Journal of Contemporary Iraq & the Arab World, March 2021). Her research has been funded by The Academic Research Institute in Iraq, the Darat al Funun Center for Modern and Contemporary Arab Art, the Max Weber Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.