Finbarr Barry Flood: Beyond Representation: Islam's 'Bilderverbot' and the Animate Image

Abendvortrag / Conferenza serale

Most text books on Islamic art feel compelled to address the 'problem' of the image in passing, engaging briefly the assumption that an uncompromising 'Bilderverbot' shaped the development of the arts in the Islamic world both negatively (constraining the use of figural imagery) and positively (promoting the development of calligraphy, geometry, and vegetal ornament). Despite the centrality of the 'Bilderverbot' to representations of Islamic art, there has been little analysis of the core prescriptions and proscriptions, their affinities, and implications for understanding the epistemological value and ontological status of the image in theological Islam by art historians. This lecture offers the paradoxical suggestion that the failure to interrogate the relevant proscriptions deprives us of a significant source for the history of image theory. It makes two basic points. First, that the question of the image in theological Islam is inseparable from a broader matrix of concerns about intersections between the financial, moral, and visual economies. Second, that the nature of the specific concerns with images in theological Islam has been misunderstood in modern scholarship. Analysis of both relevant proscriptive texts and iconoclastic practice highlights the limits of mimetic or representational concepts of the image, their historical contingency, and their inability to offer a universally valid account of the image’s ontological status.

Finbarr Barry Flood is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities at the Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1993. His research interests include Islamic architectural history and historiography, cross-cultural dimensions of Islamic art, image theory, technologies of representation, and Orientalism.

He has held fellowships at the University of Oxford, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington, the Smithsonian Institution, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, and the Getty Research Institute. In 2008 he was a Carnegie Foundation Scholar.

His work has been published in academic journals in Europe, the US, India and Australasia. Among his recent publications are a contribution to "Roundtable: The Global before Globalization", 'October' (133, Summer, 2010); "Masons and Mobility: Indic Elements in Twelfth-century Afghan Stone-carving", in Anna Filigenzi & Roberta Giunta, eds., 'Fifty Years of Research in the Heart of Eurasia', Istituto Italiano per l'Africa et l'Oriente (Rome, 2009); "From the Prophet to Postmodernism? New World Orders and the End of Islamic Art", in Elizabeth C. Mansfield, ed., 'Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and its Institutions' (Routledge, 2007).

In addition, he is the author of 'The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Making of an Umayyad Visual Culture' (Leiden, 2001), 'Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval 'Hindu-Muslim' Encounter', (Princeton University Press, 2009), the editor of 'Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque' (Oxford University Press, India, Debates in Indian History and Culture series, 2008), and co-editor with Nebahat Avcioğlu of 'Globalizing Cultures: Art and Mobility in the Eighteenth Century' (a dedicated volume of 'Ars Orientalis', 39, 2011). He is currently completing a book tentatively entitled 'Islam, Image and Iconoclasm: Paradoxical Histories', which will be published by Reaktion Books.

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