EUME Berliner Seminar
Wed 10 Feb 2021 | 17:00–18:30

What Ever was Wrong with Abstraction?

Oraib Toukan (EUME Fellow of the Swiss National Fund 2020-22) in conversation with Wendy Shaw (Freie Universität Berlin)

In What Ever was Wrong with Abstraction? Oraib Toukan explores possibilities of relearning how we look at images – images at large, and images of violence in particular. Taking Wendy Shaw’s seminal book What is “Islamic” Art: Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019) as its point of departure, this conversation will explore key prompts and counterpoints that Shaw’s work offers artistic practice. Drawing from interdisciplinary works from the 11th century onward across regions of Islamic hegemony, the book sparks decolonial illumination through a stark epistemic break with familiar notions of materiality and perception. Toukan’s research-based artistic practice questions whether abstraction can transcend representations of violence altogether into an alternative field of ‘knowing’, via seeing an image of suffering. Recognizing the insufficiency of the image in addressing representation, we begin with Shaw’s original question: What is an image in Islam?

Oraib Toukan is an artist and SNF scholar affiliated with EUME at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. She holds a PhD in Fine Arts from the University of Oxford, Ruskin School of Art. Recent exhibitions include the Asia Pacific Triennial, the Mori Art Museum, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, and the Heidelberger Kunstverein. Until fall 2015, she was head of the Arts Division and Media Studies program at Al-Quds Bard College, Palestine, and was visiting faculty at the International Academy of Fine Arts in Ramallah. Oraib Toukan is author of the book Sundry Modernism (Sternberg Press, 2017), and the essay-film When Things Occur (2016).

Wendy M. K. Shaw (Ph.D. UCLA, 1999) is Professor of the Art History of Islamic cultures at the Free University Berlin. Her work focuses on postcolonial art historiography and decolonial art history of the Islamic world and the modern Middle East. She is author of Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (University of California Press, 2003), Ottoman Painting: Reflections of Western Art from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (IB Tauris, 2011), and Loving Writing (Routledge, 2021). Her book What is “Islamic” Art: Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019) has received the Honorable Mention for the Albert Hourani Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association (2020), and is a nominee for the Iran Book Award (2021). 

In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually via ZOOM. Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on SoundCloud.

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