History of the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art

The Hamad bin Khalifa Symposia on Islamic Art address significant themes and issues in understanding the visual arts of the Islamic lands. In line with the Emir’s desire to make Qatar a leader of university education in the Gulf and the Arab world, these symposia seek to make the latest and most interesting scholarship in this growing field of Islamic art available and accessible to a wide audience, ranging from students and scholars to artists, architects, designers and the interested public.

The first symposium, titled Expanded Frontiers, was held in Richmond, Virginia in 2004, where eight scholars addressed a range of topics from the history of Islamic art to its relationships with the arts of Christian Europe. The second symposium, Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture, was held in Doha, Qatar in 2007 where 12 speakers approached the many meanings and roles of water in Islamic art and society from religious, literary, archeological, architectural, and functional perspectives. The third symposium, And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture, was held in Córdoba, Spain in 2009, and included original presentations by thirteen speakers on the role of color in Islamic art and culture. God Is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, the fourth symposium, was held at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar in 2011, where 12 speakers presented papers on objects in the museum’s collection, covering the principal media, periods, and regions of Islamic art from its origins to the present.

In 2013, God Is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture was held in Palermo, Italy, where 13 speakers, including the artist Shirin Neshat, addressed the integral role of light in Islamic civilizations across a wide range of media.  The 2015 Symposium, By the Pen and What They Write, in Doha, explored the central role of the written word in Islam and how writing practices have evolved and adapted in different historical contexts.

The 2017 Symposium was held the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; titled Islamic Art: Past, Present and Future, the gathering of 14 speakers — including Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the noted contemporary artists Lalla Essaydi and Shahzia Sikander – discussed a range of issues in the contemporary art of the Middle East. The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art and Culture traced the currents of change that unite the visual and material culture of the Islamic world across space and time. It was held in Doha, Qatar on the campus of VCUarts Qatar in November 2019. The Environment and Ecology in Islamic Art and Culture was held online from November 8 to November 15, 2021.  For the program, please visit the Publications page of the website. The proceedings of each symposium have been published by Yale University Press.

Sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of the Arts in Richmond, Virginia, VCUarts Qatar and Qatar Foundation, the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art seeks to explore broad issues in the visual arts of the Islamic world. The symposia were organized by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, shared holders of the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair for Islamic Art at VCU, from 2004 to 2017, and in 2019 and in 2021, it was organized by a committee of art historians at VCUarts Qatar, including Radha Dalal, Director of Art History and Associate Professor of Islamic Art, VCUarts Qatar; Jochen Sokoly, Associate Professor of Islamic Art, VCUarts Qatar; and Sean Roberts, Lecturer in Early Modern Art at the University of Tennessee and Affiliated Associate Professor at VCUarts Qatar. It is now chaired by Hala Auji, the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair for Islamic Art at VCU School of the Arts, and Radha Dalal. The Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium Project Manager has been Marisa Angell Brown since 2008.

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About the 2019-2021 Co-Chairs

Portrait of RadhaRadha Dalal is Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture and Interim Director of Art History at VCUarts Qatar. She researches visual cultures of mobility and urbanism with a particular emphasis on the Ottoman Empire and its socio-political interactions with other European and Asian polities during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her research projects have received funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Kress Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Qatar National Research Fund, and VCUarts Qatar. She continues to work on a VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund supported monograph project titled The Khilafat Movement and Print Media in British India and Ottoman Turkey, 1919–1924. Currently, she serves as the vice-president (2021–2023) of the Society for Global Nineteenth-Century Studies, a geographically and disciplinarily diverse network of scholars who share an interest in the world’s connectedness between 1780 and 1914.

Jochen Sokoly is Associate Professor of Art History of the Islamic World at VCUarts Qatar where he also served as Gallery Director between 2004–2011. He has curated exhibitions on contemporary art of the Middle East and lectures on the art of the Islamic World. He has been a research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Aga Khan Program at Harvard. Sokoly’s research focuses on the culture of the Early Islamic caliphates, in particular on inscribed textiles within the context of court, administration and manufacture. He is co-editor with Mary McWilliams of Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs published by Harvard Art Museums. He has also worked on 18th century British India, particularly the botanical paintings by the Indian painter Zayn al-Din from the collection of Sanskrit scholar Sir William Jones at the Royal Asiatic Society, and plans a study of the drawings of travelers Thomas and William Daniell. Sokoly serves on the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.

Sean Roberts is a Lecturer in Early Modern Art at the University of Tennessee and Affiliated Associate Professor at VCUarts Qatar. His research is concerned with the interactions between Italy and the Islamic lands, the cultural history of maps, and with the place of prints in the histories of art and technology. He is the author of Printing a Mediterranean World: Florence, Constantinople and the Renaissance of Geography (Harvard University Press, 2013) and is the co-editor of Visual Cultures of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe (Truman State University Press, 2013) and The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art (Yale University Press, 2021). His essays have appeared in numerous journals including Imago Mundi, Print Quarterly, Renaissance Studies, and the Journal of Early Modern History. He has been awarded research fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), the Huntington Library, and Villa I Tatti. From 2017 to 2019, Roberts served as President of the Italian Art Society, an international non-profit organization dedicated to the study of Italian art and architecture from pre-history to the present day.