The Fourth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art (SIA) will begin tomorrow (Saturday, October 29) at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).
Organised by academics from the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the USA, the symposium is widely considered to be the preeminent conference on Islamic art and culture.
It is held every two years in different cities, alternating with Doha. Previous symposia were held in Richmond, Virginia and in Cordoba in Spain.
At the symposium in Doha in 2007 the theme was “Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art”.
This year’s theme is “God is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty”.
The three-day symposium features 12 speakers who will present papers on objects from the MIA’s collection, ranging in date from the 8th to the 17th century. The objects have been carefully selected to cover as many countries of origin as possible, and using a wide range of media including manuscripts, carved stone, ceramics, metal, glass, oil paintings and woven textiles.
The keynote address will be delivered by Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author on architecture, who will discuss the MIA building itself as a work of Islamic architecture.
Organiser Jonathan Bloom, who along with his colleague Sheila Blair is the joint holder of the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at VCU in the United States, explained yesterday that this year’s conference is different from the previous symposia in that not only acclaimed scholars have been invited to attend but also 20 research students, museum staff and university academics, who have all received travel fellowships. Each is from a different country.
He said that the 12 papers would be published on the SIA website and also in hard copy, helping to promote the appreciation of Islamic art and culture worldwide.
Fellow organiser Blair said: “It is very exciting that this year we have young people on travel fellowships coming from so many different countries. All the continents are represented, and this year for the first time we have someone from Argentina.
“Others are from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, the US, France, Belgium, Britain, Morocco, Lebanon, Germany and Denmark.”
Bloom said: “The objects on which speakers will present papers move chronologically from a folio page from the Ummayad Tashkent Qur’an of the 8th century through to two Iranian portraits of a lady and a European man in Turkish dress, which both date to the last 17th century.
“Speakers have been requested to talk in terms intelligible to the general public rather than in the specialised jargon they employ with fellow scholars!”
Other objects include an Ottoman calligraphic album, a 9th century carved stucco decorative panel from Samarra and a 14th century gilded and enameled glass beaker from Egypt or Syria.
Noted Islamic calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, who designed the Arabic motif of this year’s symposium which can be seen on posters all over Doha, commented: ‘We are aiming in this conference to provide a window through art into the life and religion of the people of many centuries ago.”