SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Visuality and Islamic Art

Module Code:
15PARH065
Credits:
15
Year of study:
Any
Taught in:
Term 2

This​ ​​module​ ​concerns the socialization of vision in the premodern urban​ ​Islamic world,​ ​​with particular reference to North Africa. Attention will be paid to the sociological factors that influence vision and help determine what is visible and invisible for any given region of this world, as well as to architectural elements of the built environment that reinforce and index aspects of this socialized vision. In brief, this module​ concerns the social construction of ​v​ision in the premodern urban Islamic world, with particular reference to the medinas of North Africa.

Although the definition of visuality is not yet fixed in scholarship, so relatively new is it, in th​is module​ ​​we shall follow W.J.T. Mitchell’s usage of the term. Thus, visuality will​ ​​be taken to mean ​the social construction of the visual field and the visual construction of the social field.​ ​The study of​ ​​Islamic​ ​visuality​​​​ ​​will​ ​therefore​ ​be the​ ​study​ ​of​ the social construction of the visual field and the visual construction of the social field​ as th​is​ ​construction pertains to​ ​the​ ​​Islamic world​​.

Islamic visuality, in all of its spatio-temporal manifestations, is a subject that has received little scholarly attention. In studying premodern​ ​​Islamic​ ​visuality, this​ ​module​ ​therefore remains both exploratory and innovative.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Understand themes, issues, and debates related to the study of visuality in general and Islamic visuality in specific;
  • Identify and compare different approaches to the study of visuality and Islamic art, and assess critically the materials and themes explored in the module;
  • Additionally, having worked through some of the issues involved in trying to define one particular spatio-temporal expression of a non-Western visuality, namely, the visuality of premodern Islamic North Africa, s/he will be able to act similarly elsewhere, either with regard to another expression of Islamic visuality or in other fields of the arts.

Workload

  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

Aims

Primarily, to raise the question of visuality in Islamic art history, and then to work towards defining premodern urban Islamic visuality, with particular reference to North Africa. Secondarily, to highlight: a) the modern scopic regime undergirding certain key aspects of art historical practice; and, especially, b) the critical importance of attending to the logic (visual, spatial, religious, etc.) of the culture whose art and architecture are under analysis.​

Lecture themes
  • Week One: Introduction
  • Week Two: Modernist technologies for visualising others and the past
  • Week Three: Notable art historical studies on the manipulation of vision and architectural space in (mostly) premodern Arab-Muslim societies
  • Week Four: Islamic Visuality (I) – Qur’an
  • Week Five: Islamic Visuality (II) - fiqh (law)
  • Week Six: Reading Week
  • Week Seven: Islamic Visuality (III) - modesty, shame
  • Week Eight: Maghrebi Visuality (I) - the jinn
  • Week Nine: Maghrebi Visuality (II) - the evil eye
  • Week Ten: Maghrebi Visuality (III) - “manqūb,” or perforated space
  • Week Eleven: Conclusion

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words essay (worth 30%)
  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)

Disclaimer

Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules