York to Host Pioneering Islamic Art Circle
  • Thu, 10/13/2016
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13 October 2016

The University of York is to host the first Islamic Art Circle in the north of England, with a series of talks exploring Islamic art and heritage, in a move widely hailed as having the potential to bring about inter-cultural understanding.

It is a collaboration between the University’s Islamic Society and the Department of History of Art, and the events are the first to be hosted outside of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

A total of nine events will take place throughout the year, all aimed at a non-specialist audience.

The first talk takes place on Thursday 13 November from 6pm to 9pm, with a talk by Prof Robert Hillenbrand on Shahnama, the national epic of Iran.

Robert Hillenbrand, the author of ten books on Islamic architecture and paintings, who is also Professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University and Professor of Islamic Art at St Andrew’s University.

The Shahnama was commissioned by a member of the Iranian royal family in the early fourteenth-century, after the Mongol conversion to Islam, and incorporates a diverse range of literary genres, like history, poetry and romance.

The ubsequent talk will be “Exploration, Orientalism and Revival: the European Discovery of Egypt’s Islamic Heritage”, on 17 November.

Then on 1 December, the third of nine talks will be “William Holman Hunt: Pre-Raphaelite and Orientalist”.

This talk will explore how Hunt’s commitment to visual truth led him to become the most important and original British artistic interpreter of Palestine during the age of Imperialism. With characteristic determination, Hunt not only visited but lived in Jerusalem for extended periods, immersing himself in the turbulent religious politics of the period. These experiences led the artist to create landscapes, biblical scenes, and the iconic Scapegoat.

Hunt’s attitudes towards Islam and Islamic art were of course fundamental to his career in the Middle East. The lecture will suggest that by looking at the case of Hunt, we are able to understand how ideas about Islam informed Western realism’s self-identity.

Saher Ahmed, the Secretary of the University of York’s Islamic Society, commented:

The Muslim world spans from the borders of China to Spain, and offers a rich and varied artistic heritage. Indeed Yorkshire is home to a large Muslim community with roots in South Asia. The Islamic world’s architectural legacy includes the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and the minaret of Jam in Ghor, Afghanistan. The material legacy includes ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and beautifully illustrated manuscripts.

Far from popular misconception, a rich and diverse artistic heritage exists, and continues to flourish within the Muslim world today. We are launching the York Islamic Art Circle to encourage discussion, learning and debate, open to the general public. In the coming months, we will explore Persian painting, orientalism, mythology, ceramic art, Islamic gardens, overland travel in the Islamic eastern Mediterranean, textiles, and cross-cultural exchange. All of our talks are aimed at a non-specialist audience – you do not have to be a specialist to enjoy Islamic art.


"York to host Islamic Art Circle this week" The York Press October 13, 2016

Eleanor Higginson, "Pioneering Islamic art circle launched by York" The Yorker October 13, 2016

"Islamic Art Circle launch event" October 13, 2016