Department of Art and Art History News

The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence by Stephennie Mulder

Thu. February 25, 2016

Stack of Mulder's new book
The Shrines of the 'Alids in Medieval Syria

Dr. Stephennie Mulder, professor of Islamic art and architecture, has published the first illustrated, architectural history of the 'Alid shrines, The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence.

The 'Alids (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) are among the most revered figures in Islam, beloved by virtually all Muslims, regardless of sectarian affiliation. This study argues that despite the common identification of shrines as 'Shi'i' spaces, they have in fact always been unique places of pragmatic intersectarian exchange and shared piety, even - and perhaps especially - during periods of sectarian conflict.

Using a rich variety of previously unexplored sources, including textual, archeological, architectural, and epigraphic evidence, Stephennie Mulder shows how these shrines created a unifying Muslim 'holy land' in medieval Syria, and proposes a fresh conceptual approach to thinking about landscape in Islamic art. In doing so, she argues against a common paradigm of medieval sectarian conflict, complicates the notion of Sunni Revival, and provides new evidence for the negotiated complexity of sectarian interactions in the period.

The book has garnered many awards including the 2015 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Award, co-winner of the Syrian Studies Association's Best Book on Syria published between July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2015, and Iran's World Book Prize. It was also recognized in ALA Choice magazine's Outstanding Academic Titles.

Q+A with Shaun Lane, selected as TAEA Leadership Scholar and awarded NAEA New Professional Art Education Award

Thu. February 25, 2016

Shaun Lane (B.F.A. in Visual Art Studies, 2014) was selected as a 2016 Leadership Scholar by the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) and has been awarded the New Professional Art Education award from the National Art Education Association (NAEA). He answered questions by email.

man in black suit and blue shirt smiles at camera
Image courtesy.

What do these awards mean for you as you complete your second year of teaching?

Shaun Lane: While I was an undergraduate at UT Austin, I was very fortunate to receive the TAEA Outstanding Art Educator Student of Art Education Division of the year award. I don’t know if it was the timing (as it came relatively close to graduation) or the recognition, but I felt as if all of my choices concerning my professional education had been validated. Very similar to my time as an undergraduate, I continued to seek opportunities for advancement in both my classroom management and curriculum implementation techniques during my first year as a teacher. I internalized the advice of mentors and actively engaged in profession development seminars. I strove for developing relationships with my students, as well as my colleagues. Having been named the NAEA New Art Educational Professional of the Year and a TAEA 2016 Leadership Scholar once again validates my choices and my journey, motivating me to continue seeking opportunities to refine my craft.

How has your methodology shifted or changed as you have been able to manage your own classroom?

SL: Undoubtedly, there are significant differences between the safety of discussing theoretical scenarios in a college classroom, student teaching with a cooperating teacher monitoring your progress, and taking the controls to fly solo in your own classroom—just you and the students. However, under the guidance of my professors at UT Austin, we discussed and considered a plethora of potential situations I might encounter as a teacher. Also, during my student teaching, my cooperating teacher (Mandy Gregory, Cedar Park High School) was an amazing mentor, allowing me the liberty to find my own teaching style and giving me the effective feedback to improve it. When I graduated, I wasn’t in the least bit nervous.

I was very fortunate to find a position in the Georgetown Independent School District at East View High School, where the administrative staff not only truly empowers the teacher to help students learn, but also gives the support and training necessary for their educators to be successful. The summer before my first year teaching, they sent me to an influential seminar (Capturing Kid’s Hearts) that helped me develop rapport with my students as well as develop a family unit in the classroom at an accelerated rate.

Probably the most significant change in how I manage my classroom is the intentional focus on building such relationships. This has worked wonders in my classroom management, allowing me to foster strong connections and deliver substantial content to my students.

You’ve been teaching for two years, which is still a short time. Do you still feel like you’re finding your feet, or do you feel pretty prepared?

SL: While I did feel pretty prepared, every day is a new experience. Each individual student brings unique dynamics into the classroom every day, and each day I have to use a variety of techniques to settle them into the structure and security of our classroom environment. This makes each day a learning opportunity, and sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. I have celebrated personal victories as I found a way to motivate that one student that ‘doesn’t seem to care’, but I have also had to earnestly apologize to another student when I made an incorrect assumption or was insensitive to their situation. I do think that being a flexible and growing professional has served as a strong model for my students, allowing me to teach them in ways outside of the realm of art.

I simultaneously look forward to, and dread, the day that I feel as if I’ve ‘made it’, because I know that will be the day that I have to find a new challenge, which will probably take me out of the classroom. I teach art because I believe in its power and its ability to change lives for the better. I aspire to one day influence the positive growth of students through art on both a local and national level, but that time is many years down the road.

For now, I am absolutely happy with making a difference in my student’s lives in my art classroom and growing as an educator/mentor every day.

What advice would you give to new educators entering the field?

SL: My advice would be to “Don’t worry, be crappy.” This is borrowed from Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley Marketing Executive. If you truly believe that your ideas are useful and will bring about significant, positive change, implement them. Even when they aren’t perfect and refined, get something out there. Always be open to feedback, which will help you grow. Don’t plan yourself into doing nothing. If you wait for the perfect conditions or the right time to try out something, that time may never come. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your own ideals and beliefs. A lot of campus programs are looking for those new and innovative methods, but some are settled into a rhythm of ‘what works.‘ Listen to the veterans and consider their insights, but don’t let ‘how things have always been done’ deter you from realizing your vision of enlightening young minds.

Lastly, stay hungry. The time commitments of teaching are significantly demanding already, and it will be a sacrifice to involve yourself in every opportunity to learn and grow, but I assure you that it will be well worth it. Your students and colleagues will appreciate your drive and quite possibly be inspired by it.

Bucky Miller reflects on his time in London as RCA exchange student

Thu. February 25, 2016

Each fall, Royal College of Art, London (RCA) sends one graduate student to study at UT Austin, and the Department of Art and Art history sends one graduate student in their third semester to study in London. Bucky Miller, M.F.A. candidate in Studio Art, studied in London last fall.



First, an American man wearing all denim and an eye patch picked me up at Heathrow and took me to meet Genie, who was to live my life for a while. I was in London as an exchange student at the Royal College of Art Program in Sculpture, where I would spend four months working and researching through the seemingly limitless layers of history that describe that city.

courtyard surrounded by brick buildings

The majority of the pictures I made during my trip, the majority of the research I accomplished, will hopefully find their own versions of sense over the coming months. But some pictures are outliers—one-offs or tangents that could easily slip through the cracks. I shared some of these tangents on the website of the Walkative group. Here are a few more:


volley ball floating between white walls in large room

I was housed alongside nearly seventy M.A. students inside the RCA Sculpture studios. The student body is so large that I don’t even think I met everyone in Sculpture, let alone the other disciplines, but I miss the ones I met. It is quite an international group, and I was one of only a few Americans.

Once, standing outside the pub opposite the RCA, I heard a man with an American accent say, “do you know Ari?”

“Sorry?” I said.

“Is your name Bucky? Do you know Ari? I’m Matt. I think I met you in Arizona in like 2006.”

ceral boxes and peach on table

(Studio Table) Here is a detail of my studio table. The studio spaces at the RCA are communal, and I was surrounded by wonderful people: one from Chile who made a sinking Moai and was charting the Rhubarb Triangle, one from Germany who was collecting novelizations of Dirty Dancing from the £1 store, one from South Korea who made a campfire without fire, and one from Japan whose art defies explanation but who seemed to be ruining televisions toward some fruitful end. In other parts of the building, somebody was preparing to launch a duck decoy with a brick while some others were conducting a ballet starring camp chairs.

At one point I made a drawing out of a bran flake. I tried to bring it home in a box of tea but it didn’t survive the flight.


car parked in front of red one story building

London contains—by my count—276 museums; these gave me a map for my research. I went to as many as I could—up to five in one day—acting simultaneously as tourist and collector, getting lost in displays and wall text until I realized that I had forgotten to eat and scrambled off to find a sandwich. Actual museums that I visited, with made-up yet accurate names, include:

  • The Middle-Class Living Rooms Museum
  • The Museum of Famous Fat Men of the 1940s
  • The House Where Freud Died

When I go over the blur of floor plans in my head, attempting to separate all those collections, I am surprised at how little overlap there is. Still, I believe these places can be united—not just museologically, but through fiction.

blue broom handle in front of two cropped images of clouds

There are also museums that are built entirely out of photographs, but I will write more about that at a later date.


blue berries on tree on street

I lived in Waterloo with Barbara and Simon. They had two cats, called Gilbert and George. I had my pig, Pig, who learned to fly in the downstairs kitchen. I learned to love QI. Sometimes there were visitors. Once, there was a Hanukah party.

shirts hanging off doorway


swan on black surface

Somebody informed me that all swans in England belong to the Queen, and that tampering with a swan was a serious offense. Generally I am more nervous that a swan will tamper with me. These two factors—combined—may explain why I did not photograph any actual swans.

goose head between curved bars

I felt more comfortable photographing the other waterfowl in the Royal Parks, and it seemed a lot of the tourists had the same idea. It was one of a few indulgences I permitted myself; I didn’t ride the London Eye or take a Haunted Bus Tour, but the birds were free.

heron on grass lawn with fallen leaves

This is me. At one point I agreed that I was a heron. Heron Bucky still lives in London, patrolling the banks of the Thames for fish and discarded Shrek plushies, while I’m back in the States. I miss him.

pigeon on gray stones

It was immediately clear to me that pigeons in London are surprisingly handsome. This fellow, who is really pretty average by London standards, hung out on the balcony at Tate Modern. I lived relatively close to the Tate and found myself there all the time, taking in their massive collection bit-by-bit. One day I might only look at Arte Povera stuff, the next Nam Jun Paik, and one specific Dorothea Tanning painting on the third. There were at least a couple visits where I only looked at the pigeons, who had a great view out over the Thames at a point where the buskers sang American folk songs.

minature horse in dirt pen with barn in background

This bird is a horse. It is about the size of a typical London swan, but I’m pretty sure it does not belong to the Queen. Photographed for scale.


field of lettuce

I’d been in the UK for less than two weeks when I wound up on a farm in Cuckfield, West Sussex, for a performance art festival. In this picture, a performer hides in the lettuce patch, wearing lettuce and talking on a lettuce phone about the latest happenings in British politics (Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected leader of the Labour Party). All the work was heartfelt, different, and, for me, slightly mind-bending. Overall the day was produce-heavy: I was given blackberries straight from a bush, I photographed a cabbage, I sang to a pear, and I fell in love with a cauliflower.

London contains a lot of art. So much art, in fact, that I’m not sure how to distill it here.

stacked sandwiches wraped in plastic


stones stacked in shape of person in front of brick building

Before I left Texas I made loose plans to travel, to see more of Europe. It didn’t really happen. I did make it to Cambridge once—and here’s their Polar Research Institute—but I was completely consumed by the ecstatic act of existing inside of London. I saw no reason to leave.

noborder building painted on side of another building


roof of building with planters and carosel in background


lion statue in park at night


tree and street outside sunny window


All images courtesy Bucky Miller.

Design undergraduates travel to New York City and visit design firms

Wed. February 24, 2016

three people stand in front of doorway for photo

Design undergraduates (from left to right in photo) Jacqueline Juengst, Hillary Henrici, and Moses Lee traveled to New York to visit and experience agencies and events relevant to their practices. Read about their experiences on their blog.

Through the Professional Development Travel Initiative, the College of Fine Arts Career Services awards financial support to qualifying groups of students who design their own travel opportunities to apply their academic work to their professional goals.

Nassos Papalexandrou discusses recent resarch and lectures at The Getty

Wed. February 24, 2016

white logo on green square

Read an interview with Nassos Papalexandrou about his recent research. Papalexandrou will give a lecture February 27, 2016 at the Getty Villa.