A file photo of the 4th Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art.

By Anand Holla

Qatar is all set to witness an enlightening conclave of epic proportions this winter. The Sixth Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art and Culture, which will be held from November 7 to November 9 will feature the choicest of stalwarts from the art and culture sphere.
This year’s symposium, titled By the Pen and What They Write: Writing in Islamic Art and Culture, will feature “original presentations by leading art historians, curators, conservators and writers on the role of writing in Islamic art, covering topics such as early Islamic inscriptions, calligraphy and the relationship between text and image.”
The symposium will close on a high as noted contemporary calligrapher Nasser al-Salem, who was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize in 2013, will demonstrate his fine skills with the pen. Al-Salem’s practice has been said to push the boundaries of the age-old Islamic art by reinventing it in non-conventional mixed media forms and by exploring its conceptual potential.
A keynote address given by Sheila S Blair titled Writing as Signifier of Islam will open the grand event on the evening of November 7 at the Al Rayyan Theater in Souq Waqif. Presentations on November 8 and 9 will take place at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).
Here’s the list of speakers attending the symposium, and what they will speak on: Huda Abifares, Arabic Typography and the Shaping of a Modern Print Culture; Nasser al-Salem, Islamic Architecture & Calligraphy: The Geometric Parallel; Heba Barakat, Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy: Its Formation and Challenges (Featuring the Collection of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia); Jonathan Bloom, How Paper Changed Islamic Art; Sheila S Blair, Writing as Signifier of Islam; Massumeh Farhad, Reading between the Lines: Text and Image in Sixteenth-Century Iran; Robert Hoyland, The Birth of Arabic Writing on Stone; Ludvik Kalus, The Spread of Islamic Inscriptions in East and Southeast Asia; Hugh Kennedy, Demand in the Abbasid Economy: A Fiscal and Social Analysis; Angelika Neuwirth, Scripture, Revelation, and Writing: The Qur’an’s Epistemic Recast of Arabian Late Antiquity; Kristine Rose Beers, Towards an Archaeology of Islamic Bookbinding; and Dana Sajdi, Chained: Orality, Authority and History.
The Symposium, organised by Sheila S Blair and Jonathan M Bloom, is a leading international conference on Islamic art and culture. It is co-sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, VCUQatar and the Qatar Foundation.
In 2004, the first symposium was held in Richmond, Virginia. The second symposium, Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture, was held in Doha in 2007. And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture, the third biennial Symposium, was held in C?rdoba, Spain in November 2009.
Since 2007, the papers delivered at 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). This year’s Symposium – God Is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture – will be published as well.

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