Finbarr Barry Flood, New York University: "Beyond Representation? Revisiting Islam's 'Image Problem'"
Thu, November 17, 2011 • 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM • Texas Union 3. 116 (President's Room)
Most text books on Islamic art feel compelled to address the 'problem' of the image in passing, engaging 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 the historiography of Islamic art, there has been little analysis of the core prescriptions and proscriptions, their relationship to antecedent traditions, and implications for the status of the image in theological Islam. Combining textual analysis with architectural and archaeological evidence from early Islamic Syria and Palestine, 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 financial, moral, and visual economies. Second, that the nature of the specific concerns with images in theological Islam has been misunderstood in modern scholarship. More significant for the discipline of art history is the fact that 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.