Prof. Dr. Avinoam Shalem


Avinoam Shalem is the Riggio Professor of the arts of Islam at the Columbia University in the city of New York. He was Andrew Mellon Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, Guest Scholar at the Getty Research Center in 2009 and 2019; Guest Professor of Islamic art at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of the Jawaharlal Nehru University of New Delhi; Lester K. Little Scholar in Residence at the American Academy in Rome in 2016; and Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor at the Clark Institute in 2017. Between 2007-2015, he was the Max-Planck Associate Fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. His main fields of interest are in medieval artistic interactions in the Mediterranean basin, medieval aesthetic, and the historiography of the field. He is the author of several books. Among his recent book publications are: The Image of the Prophet between Ideal and Ideology: A Scholarly Investigation (with Christiane J. Gruber, 2014); Die mittelalterliche Olifante (2014); Gazing Otherwise: Modalities of Seeing In and Beyond the Lands of Islam (with Olga Bush, 2015); The Chasuble of Thomas Becket: A Biography (2017); and Treasures of the Sea: Art Before Craft (2017). His current book project When Nature Becomes Ideology deals with the specific changes that the rural landscape of Palestine went through since 1947 to the present.

Governed By Abstraction: The Case of Early Carved 'Umayyad' Ivories and Bones

In one of the letters sent by Gauguin from Tahiti in December 1892 to his wife Mette the artist explained the very genesis of his famous painting Mana'o tupapa'u: "Je fis un nu de jeune fille. Dans cette position, un rien, et elle est indécente. Cependant je la veux ainsi, les lignes et le mouvement m'intéressent (I made a nude after a young woman. In this position, a trifle would make her indecent. But this is how I want her, the lines and the movement interest me)." Recently discussed by Dario Gamboni, who convincingly argues that this saying manifests eroticism as the first artistic creative process, I would like to take this sentence as my point of departure for the study of early Umayyad ivories and to focus on Gauguin's last words: "the lines and the movement interest me". By going forward to the modernist gaze of an artist, who searched for newness and estrangement in the art of western painting, this book sets its starting standpoint in modern history, in the age of transition from figurative to abstract painting. But, while turning one's gaze back to the past, it aims at revisiting the mammoth surviving volume of the carved bone and ivory fragments datable to the intermediate moments of early Umayyad period. Thus, the particular style of these low-reliefs panels will be analyzed and treated as aesthetic form of expression rather than taxonomic apparatus.


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