Posted on November 11, 2015

Scholars from around the world explored the role of writing in Islamic art and culture during the Sixth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art. The Symposium celebrated its 10thanniversary this year.

This year’s Symposium, titled “By the Pen and What They Write: Writing in Islamic Art and Culture,”featured 12 speakers, all of whom are leading scholars in the art world. Speakers discussed some of the earliest Arabic scripts that have been found on rocks in the desert prior to Islam and the importance of paper to facilitate the spreading of the Qur’an’s message.

The sixth Biennial Hamad 1 [].jpegThe keynote address: “Writing as Signifier of Islam,” was delivered by Dr. Sheila Blair, a historian of Islamic art and shared holder of the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair in Islamic Art at VCU, who said: “Writings in Islamic art are of great interest to people in this region and around the world and it is fantastic to be a part of the Symposium’s ten year milestone. We hope to have many more years of bringing renowned art scholars to the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art.”

Dean of VCUQatar, Akel Kahera, PhD, in his opening remarks added: “The Symposium -- which over the years has addressed varied topics in the history of Islamic art, architecture and culture, including the role of water, colour, light and now, writing -- has made an inordinate contribution to the field.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art has become the premiere international conference on Islamic art and culture.“

The second day of the Symposium, Sunday 8 November, commenced with “The Birth of Arabic Writing in Stone,” presented by Robert Hoyland, who reviewed the earliest Arabic script found on rocks on the desert margins of the Levant and Arabia in the centuries priorto Islam. These pre-Islamic graffiti were a narrative of heroic actions of the tribe, and Bedouin itineraries and found mainly in Nabate an Aramaic script. The Arabic language existed long before the script and was also found as graffito transliterated into Greek characters. Angelika Neuwirth highlighted that it was the Qur’an that re-established writing in Arabic script and became a highly meaningful and authoritative source of knowledge, due to which Islam has survived beyond the prophets’ lives and spread across continents.

The sixth Biennial Hamad 2 [].jpgTypography as a building block of written communication and a vital form of expressing cultural identity and ideology was discussed in Huda Smitshuijzen Abifarès’ paper - “Arabic Typography and the Shaping of a Modern Design Culture.” The Symposium closed the second day with a lively panel discussion that included all speakers, and allowed the audience to actively participate and contribute.

Jonathan Bloom opened the third and last day of the Symposium with a discussion on: “How Paper Changed Islamic Literary and Visual Culture,” followed by Kristine Rose Beers’:“Reading with Conservators: The Language of Book Archaeology,”analyzing the modern technology used to conserve paper.Bothtalks emphasized the importance of access to affordable material to produce manuscripts. Massumeh Farhad, chief curator and curator of Islamic Art at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, analyzed the intricate link to the written word with images, in her lecture, “Reading between the Lines: Text and Image in Sixteenth-Century Iran.” The Symposium concluded with Nasser Al Salem’s “Calligraphy Presentation,” which explored non-conventional mixed media forms of traditional Arabic calligraphy.Various artistic uses of his calligraphic art were shown and explained by him.