VCUarts and VCUarts Qatar to present leading international conference on Islamic art this fall

VCUarts and VCUarts Qatar to present leading international conference on Islamic art this fall

Thirteen of the leading scholars, curators and artists of Islamic art and architecture from around the world will present their latest research at the seventh Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic ArtNov. 2–4 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Hosted by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and VCUarts Qatar in partnership with the Qatar Foundation, “Islamic Art: Past, Present and Future” will include a number of presentations addressing how Islamic art engages with contemporary politics, global capitalism, gender, religion and history, and how Western museums have approached collecting and curating the arts of the Islamic world.

“We are delighted to host the Hamad bin Khalifa symposium in Richmond this year,” said James Frazier, interim dean of VCUarts. “The symposium is widely considered the preeminent conference on Islamic art and culture, and we are thrilled that our students, faculty and broader community in Richmond will have the opportunity to directly participate in the rich, cross-cultural dialogue led by our Doha campus. The symposia support our mission to advance teaching and learning across the university, and we are grateful to the Qatar Foundation for supporting us in driving the international exchange of ideas and establishing a common ground through the arts.”

Opening remarks will be delivered by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chair of Qatar Museums, Doha Film Institute and Qatar Leadership, and a leading proponent of the arts as a catalyst for education, dialogue and exchange. She has become known internationally as the progressive force behind Qatar’s mission to be the Middle East’s foremost destination for the arts and culture.

Following the opening remarks, a keynote address will be given by the contemporary artist Lalla Essaydi, whose work often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female form to address the complex realities of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of intimate, personal experience. Essaydi’s work is held in the collections of a number of museums including the Louvre, the British Museum and the Harvard Art Museums.


Additional speakers at the upcoming Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art include: 

  • Mohammad al-Asad, an architect and architectural historian who has worked at Harvard, MIT and Princeton and founded the Center for the Study of the Built Environment, a think tank in Amman, Jordan, exploring the tension between local and Western architectural forms.
  • Her Royal Highness Princess Wijdan Al-Hashemi of Jordan, a pioneer in establishing important collections of contemporary art of the Islamic world. In Jordan she founded the Royal Society of Fine Arts (1979), the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (1980), the Higher Institute of Islamic Art and Architecture at Al Al-Bait University, Jordan (1992), and the College of Arts and Design at the University of Jordan (2002).  
  • Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, a United Arab Emirates-based columnist and commentator on Arab affairs whose articles have appeared in The Financial Times, The New York Times and Foreign Policy, among other notable publications. Al-Qassemi is an MIT Media Labs Director’s Fellow. He was named on Arabian Business’ “World’s 100 Most Powerful Arabs” list in 2014, and TIME magazine’s “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011.” Al-Qassemi is the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, established to contribute to intellectual development in the Arab region.
  • Shahzia Sikander, a Pakistani-American artist and MacArthur Fellow best known for contemporizing the traditional Indo-Persian discipline of miniature painting and causing a transnational resurgence in the art form. Her work can be seen in museums around the world including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Whitney Museum of American Art; and The Museum of Modern Art. Sikander is the recipient of many prestigious awards including a Medal of Art from the U.S. State Department.


  • Nada Shabout, who is the founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey. She was the consulting founding director of research at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and the editor-in-chief of the Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World. She has curated exhibitions of modern Islamic art all over the world and is the director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative at the University of North Texas.


The Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art is organized by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom who have shared the Hamad Bin Khalifa Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at VCU since its establishment in 2006. 

“The Hamad bin Khalifa symposia are remarkable in bringing together leading experts who present their cutting-edge work in accessible ways,” Blair said. “This year’s speakers are particularly notable for their wide range of experiences from the practical to the theoretical.”

“When we started studying Islamic art in the 1970s, the subject was deemed to end around 1700,” said Bloom. “Over the past decades the field has expanded both chronologically and geographically, and it seems particularly appropriate for this year’s symposium to explore the relationships between the past, present and future of the field.”

In its 13-year history, the symposium has been held in cities around the world that play significant roles in Islamic history. Past symposia were held in Richmond (2004); Doha, Qatar (2007, 2011 and 2015); Córdoba, Spain (2009) and Palermo, Italy (2013).

In coordination with the symposium, up to 10 additional scholars of Islamic art from around the world will be awarded Hamad bin Khalifa Travel Fellowships. The fellowships support travel expenses for these scholars to attend the symposium as well as invitations to special events at which they will have a chance to connect with symposium presenters.


“Islamic Art: Past, Present and Future” program schedule:

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017

HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Al-Thani, Opening Address
Lalla Essaydi, Keynote Address: “Gender, Power, and Tradition”
5–6:45 p.m. 


Friday, Nov. 3, 2017

Opening Remarks, Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, Symposium co-chairs and shared holders of the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair in Islamic Art at VCU
9–9:15 a.m.

HRH Princess Wijdan Al-Hashemi, “Contemporary or Modern Islamic Art?”
9:15–10 a.m. 

Nada Shabout, “Contemporary Trajectories: Iraqi Art in Context”
10–10:45 a.m. 

Coffee Break
10:45–11:15 a.m. 

Nacim Pak-Shiraz, “Iranian Cinema Today: An Ode to the Past and New Directions in the Future?”
11:15 a.m.–noon 

Mohammad al-Asad, “Whose history Is It Anyway: The Presence of the Past in the Architecture of the Arab Middle East over the Past Century and a Half”
Noon–12:45 p.m. 

Lunch break
1–2:15 p.m. 

Newsha Tavakolian, “A Shah, a Russian and My Grandfather: Iranian Photography, a History”
2:30–3:15 p.m. 

Audience questions and discussion
3:15–3:45 p.m.


Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017

Opening Remarks, Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom
9–9:15 a.m. 

Linda Komaroff, “Islamic Art Now and Then”
9:15–10 a.m. 

Venetia Porter, “Narratives of the Middle East: What Does the Contemporary Art of the Middle East Tell Us about the Cultures, History and Politics of the Middle East Today and How Does this Collecting Fit within the Context of the British Museum?”
10–10:45 a.m. 

Coffee Break
10:45–11:15 a.m. 

Shahzia Sikander, artist
11:15 a.m.–noon 

Stefano Carboni, “Collecting Islamic Art in Southeast Asia and Australia: Past, Present and Future”
Noon–12:45 p.m. 

Lunch break
1–2:15 p.m. 

Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, “Politics of Arab Art”
2:30–3:15 p.m. 

Hassan Hajjaj, “Hub Wahad: On Finding Inspiration in a Community of Nomads”
3:15–4 p.m. 

Audience questions and discussion
4–4:30 p.m. 

Closing reception
4:30–5:15 p.m.


For a full list of speakers, presentations and details, please visit

Media images are available at


The symposium is open to the public. Registration is $10 per day. Advance registration is recommended as space is limited. All programs will take place in the Cheek Theater, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard. For more information, and to register, please visit


“Islamic Art: Past, Present and Future” is sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, VCUarts Qatar and the Qatar Foundation.


The proceedings of each symposium have been published by Yale University Press, including Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture (2009), And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture (2011), God Is Beautiful and Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture (2013), God Is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture (2015), and By the Pen and What They Write: Writing in Islamic Art and Culture (fall 2017). The 2017 symposium will be published in Fall 2019.

About VCUarts Qatar

VCUarts Qatar is the branch campus of the prestigious Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Established in 1998, VCUarts Qatar offers students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fashion design, graphic design, interior design and painting & printmaking, a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in design studies. The university is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. VCUarts Qatar has substantial involvement with the emerging design industries in Qatar and has established itself as a center of excellence for education and research in art and design.

About VCUarts

VCUarts is a comprehensive art school within a major, urban public research university. Currently ranked the No. 1 public school of art and design by U.S. News and World Report, it offers 15 undergraduate and 10 graduate degree programs in fine arts, design, performing arts, historical research and pedagogical practice. Its campus in Qatar provides students and faculty with a direct tie to the Middle East, a region of increasing significance in the contemporary art world. Distinguished faculty members are internationally recognized in their respective fields and contribute significantly to the stature of VCU and are committed to mentoring the next generation of artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, scholars and engaged citizens of diverse communities around the world.

About The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is a private, non-profit organization that serves the people of Qatar by supporting and operating programs in three core mission areas: education, science and research, and community development. The Foundation strives to nurture the future leaders of Qatar. By example and by sharing its experience, the Foundation also contributes to human development nationally, regionally, and internationally. In all of its activities, the Foundation promotes a culture of excellence in Qatar and furthers its role in supporting an innovative and open society that aspires to develop sustainable human capacity, social, and economic prosperity for a knowledge-based economy. Founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Amir, QF is chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.