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What is 'Islamic' Art?
Between Religion and Perception


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  • Date Published: October 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108474658

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About the Authors
  • Revealing what is 'Islamic' in Islamic art, Shaw explores the perception of arts, including painting, music, and geometry through the discursive sphere of historical Islam including the Qur'an, Hadith, Sufism, ancient philosophy, and poetry. Emphasis on the experience of reception over the context of production enables a new approach, not only to Islam and its arts, but also as a decolonizing model for global approaches to art history. Shaw combines a concise introduction to Islamic intellectual history with a critique of the modern, secular, and European premises of disciplinary art history. Her meticulous interpretations of intertextual themes span antique philosophies, core religious and theological texts, and prominent prose and poetry in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu that circulated across regions of Islamic hegemony from the eleventh century to the colonial and post-colonial contexts of the modern Middle East.

    • Provides introductions to central debates within art history and Islam
    • Offers an alternate framework to Western approaches to understanding artistic objects
    • Defines and explains specialist art history and Islamic studies terms in an engaging, accessible way
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    • Honorable Mention, 2020 Albert Hourani Book Award, Middle East Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This book is exactly what art history needs when it attempts to think about Islamic art. Instead of asking what properties make an image Islamic, this book asks, what is an image in Islam? When art history begins to understand its secularism, concepts like art, image, vision, matter, and history necessarily change. Shaw gives us a different perceptual culture, one that begins from Islamic discourses, and gradually becomes visible as art and history. It is the first book of its kind, and I hope there will be many more.' James Elkins, School of the Art Institute, Chicago

    'By questioning the primacy of the art object and placing the experience of perception at center stage, Shaw challenges a number of paradigms within the field of Art History. In this master stroke of scholarship, she pries open the affective and aesthetic landscapes of pre-modern Islamic cultures, untethered from any single-point perspective and re-enchanted by the soaring poesis of her prose.' Christiane Gruber, University of Michigan

    'A radical rethinking of modern art history and the secular terms of Islamic art history. Stepping out of the perspectival frame, this marvelous book unpacks not only a vibrant Islamic perceptual culture thriving on sensation and mimesis but also imagines the possibility of studying art from a de-colonial angle. An amazing tour de force revealing an alternate approach to art!' Birgit Meyer, Universiteit Utrecht

    'A question that may seem simple, but behind that door is the history of everything - the shape of thought, the logic of imagination, the cradle of taste. Creative, sophisticated, fluent and spirited, Shaw paints in the rich landscape that gives meaning to self and other.' Victoria Rowe Holbrook, Istanbul Bilgi University

    '… intriguing, insightful … the book offers stimulating readings of religious and literary texts … in relation to the perception of images.' L. Nees, Choice

    '… eloquent and readable book will make an excellent companion to the study of Islamic art.' Cleo Cantone, The Muslim World Book Review

    '... a must-read for art historians, curators and students interested in the sophistication of Islamic art, historically best appreciated by educated Muslims.' Tamimi Arab Pooyan, Journal of the Association of Art History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2019
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108474658
    • length: 382 pages
    • dimensions: 250 x 174 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.92kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    Note on transcultural communication
    Introduction: from Islamic art to perceptual culture
    1. The Islamic image
    2. Seeing with the ear
    3. The insufficient image
    4. Seeing with the heart
    5. Seeing through the mirror
    6. Deceiving deception
    7. The transcendent image
    8. The transgressive image
    9. Mimetic geometries
    10. Perspectives on perspective
    Conclusion: out of perspective

  • Author

    Wendy M. K. Shaw, Freie Universität Berlin
    Wendy M. K. Shaw is Professor of the Art History of Islamic Cultures at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her work focuses on the impact of coloniality on museums, archaeology, preservation, and historical, modern, and contemporary art, with emphasis on the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey, regions of Islamic hegemony, Sufism, and transregional art historiography. She is the author of Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (2003), and Ottoman Painting: Reflections of Western Art from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (2011).


    • Honorable Mention, 2020 Albert Hourani Book Award, Middle East Studies Association

Related Links

Wendy M.K. in Conversation – Interview in Marginalia LARB

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