EUME Workshop
Fr 22 Jun 2012 – Sa 23 Jun 2012

Reflection in Mirrors: Workshop on the Role of Mirrors in the Making of the History of Vision in the Middle East and Europa

With Adania Shibli (EUME-Fellow 2011/12 / Birzeit University, Ramallah), Hoda Barakat (Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin 2011/12 / Beirut), Hans Belting (Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe) and Kamal al-Jafari (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie, Berlin)

Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Villa Jaffé, Wallotstr. 10, 14193 Berlin



This workshop aimed to bring together a range of scholars working mainly in the humanities and the social sciences, in order to explore the application of mirrors and mirror reflections in a wide variety of fields including science, religion, the arts, media, law and politics, in the Middle East and Europe, during a time span stretching from the Islamic Golden Age to the present Information Age. Some of the main questions that were addressed are:

  • What role did mirrors and mirror reflections have in forming a variety of knowledge fields, disciplines and practices? What implications did these roles have, in particular, for scientific and philosophical inquiries, artistic methods, and power structures across different time spans?
  • What visual models do mirrors and mirror reflections infer, particularly with regard to the relationship between the observer and the observed? How can these models assist us in understanding visual materials concerned with self-images throughout the past few centuries?
  • How to understand the contribution of these visual models, extracted from mirrors and their observation arrangements, to the history of vision as a whole? Could they provide us with an alternative vision regime to that of perspectivalism, widely regarded as the scopic regime of Modernity? 

In the early 11th century, the Abbasid era scientist Hassan Ibn ul-Haytham (945-1040; Latinized as Alhazan, Alhazen, and Alhacen) offered the first comprehensive explanation of the camera obscura, which two centuries later arrived into Latin Europe, eventually emphasizing perspectivalism and its inference to the objective observer and its dominance over the observed. Perspectivalism had a lasting effect on European thought, and its influence can be seen from Renaissance Art to modern sciences and philosophy, and contemporary methods of panoptical control. However, in approximately the same era, there appeared another major thinker, Abu Hamed alGhazali (1058-1111; Latinised as Algazel). His core idea, developed as part of his Sufi philosophy, suggests that the human soul should ideally be mirror-like, reflecting everything in the cosmos, which is nothing but the creation of God. In this fashion, alGhazali's proposal appears to contend the opposite of the camera obscura model, by professing the dominance of the observed over the observer. 

While contemporary theories on vision and visuality have explored Ibn ul-Haytham's perspectivalism regime and its implications for a wider range of knowledge fields, there has been no rigorous investigation of the second interpretation of the visual, proposed by al-Ghazali. The workshop Reflections in Mirrors seeks to shift the focus to this less explored visual model and to ponder the role, use, presence, and influence of mirrors as optical devices, which are embedded in a much larger assemblage of disciplines, practices, uses, and powers. In particular, the workshop examines how the uses of mirrors in science, philosophy and aesthetics overlap, allowing for certain perceptions to traverse from one field to the other. 

Though mirror-like objects were available during major epochs and territories within the Middle East and Europe, already before the Islamic Golden Age (e.g. Anatolia in 6000 BC, pre-Dynastic Egypt in 4500 BC; Southern Mesopotamia in 4000 BC; the Mediterranean in 100 AD), the production and use of glass mirrors notably flourished in 11th century al-Andalus, then in Renaissance Europe, but especially in Modern Europe, following the invention of silvered-glass mirror - credited to German chemist Justus von Liebig - in 1835. Throughout this expansive emergence, mirrors have had different and constantly shifting roles and applications that exceed their domestic use, up to the present day. Different types of mirrors have figured as a major element in diverse disciplines: from physics and optics (e.g. Ibn ul-Haytham, 965-1040; Newton 1642-1727), to astronomy (Ibn Sahl, 940-1000; Galilei 1564-1642), industrial machinery (17th century telescopes, 19th century cameras and periscopes, and modern-day laser technology), religion (Sufism and Kabbalist tradition), art (works by the great painting masters, from Da Vinci to Lucian Freud), literature (e.g. 12th century al-Attar’s The Conference of the Birds; Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, 1872; Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray,1891; Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), psychology (Ferenczi’s spectrophobia, Lacan’s mirror-phase), politics (borders control in Palestine/Israel), and law (mirror-rooms in modern Italian courts). 

The present workshop revisits the various applications of mirrors and mirror reflections in these diverse fields from late 10th century and up to the present age. To that end, it brings together scholars who will discuss the ways in which mirrors and mirror reflections are integral to a wide set of fields and disciplines, from history of science, to religious history, literature and literary theory, history of art, philosophy, media studies, politics and law. In so doing, the workshop extends beyond the camera obscura model common to contemporary studies, and proposes an alternative path to reflect on and comprehend vision and the visual during the past few centuries, with especial emphasis on the present age. Indeed, this inquiry remains pressing given the conditions and ubiquity of visual observations and devices in contemporary life. Over the past few decades, with the spread of video, cybernetic technology, and other new technical machinery used for visual simulation and image production, self-images and self-presentations have continued to reassert themselves as chief instruments for various ends, spanning from scientific procedures to social self-realisation.



Mohammed Hamdouni Alami is an architect and art historian. Born in Fez, Alami pursued his degree in architecture in Grenoble, France. He received his PhD from the program of Art History and Archeology of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley. He taught architecture and architectural history in Morocco and France, before moving to the US where he currently holds a position of Associate Researcher at UC Berkeley. His recent publications include Art and Architecture in the Islamic Tradition: Aesthetic, Politics and Desire in Early Islam (IB Tauris, 2010).

Miranda Anderson is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where she is currently working on a book, The Renaissance Embodied and Extended Mind. She is also an associate researcher of the Balzan Project ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’ and a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). She is the organiser of the ‘mind across disciplines’ series of lectures and the conceptual director of Palimpsest: Literary Edinburgh, a mobile web application enabling the recreation of imaginary and historical cityscapes based on excerpts of Edinburgh-based texts. Miranda is also the editor of The Book of the Mirror, an interdisciplinary collection of essays on the cultural history of the mirror in art, literature, history, archaelogy, philosophy and science.

Hoda Barakat graduated from Beirut University in 1974 with a degree in French literature, and moved to Paris in 1989. Her first collection of short stories, entitled Za'irat, was published in 1985. In 1985-86 she worked at the Centre for Lebanese Research. Her major works including Hajar al-Dahik (The Stone of Laughter, 1990), which won the Al-Naqid prize, and Ahl el-Hawa (People of Love, 1993).  Her third novel, Harit al-miyah (The Tiller of Waters), won the Najib Mahfouz 2000 award. In 2008, the French president granted Barakat the “National Order of Merit” inappreciation of her distinguished talent as a novelist and her breadth of cultural vision.

Hans Belting was co-founder of the School for New Media (Hochschule für Gestaltung) at Karlsruhe, Germany (1992) and professor of art history and media theory (until 2002). He previously held chairs of art history at the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich and acted as Visiting professor at Harvard (1984), Columbia University (1989) and North Western University (2004). In 1994/95 and 1990/2000 he was a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 2003, he lectured at the Collège de France at Paris, and received an honorary degree from the Courtauld Institute, London. From 2004 to 2007 he was Director of the “International Center for Cultural Science” (IFK) at Vienna. At present, he is advisor of the project GAM (Global Art and the Museum) at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe. Among his most recent books: Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science (Harvard University Press, 2011) and Toward an Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Islam Dayeh is coordinator of Zukunftsphilologie, a research program at the Forum Transregionale Studien. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies from the University of Jordan, an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Leiden and an MSt in Jewish Studies from the University of Oxford.  
His dissertation at the Freie Universität in Berlin is a study of the exegetical works of the Cairene-Damascene scholar Burhan al-Din al-Biqai (1406-1480), author of two compendious works written over two decades that bring together the exegete’s expertise in medieval Arabic literary theory and Muslim Hebraism. His areas of interest include early modern Arabic textual practices, Judeo-Arabic literature and commentary culture.

Sven Dupré is Professor of History of Knowledge at the Institute for Art History of the Freie Universität Berlin. At the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science he directs a Max Planck Research Group on „Art and knowledge in pre-modern Europe“. Among Dupré’s publications on the history of optics, optical instruments and mirrors are From Earth-Bound to Satellite. Telescopes, Skills and Networks, Brill (2011); The Origins of the Telescope, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2010); Optics, Instruments and Painting, 1420-1720: Reflections on the Hockney-Falco Thesis, Brill (2005).  Most recent publications include a forthcoming collection of essays, Translating Knowledge in the Early Modern Low Countries, edited together with Harold J. Cook.

Hans-Magnus Egger (LL.M.), obtained his Law degree at the Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, and a Master's degree in European and International Economic Law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (2005/2006). He is registered lawyer, practicing mainly in commercial and bussiness law, international private law and international litigation.

Kamal Al-Jafari is a graduate of the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne. His award-winning film work includes The Roof (2006) and Port of Memory (2009). Until 2010, he was Benjamin White Whitney Fellow at Harvard University, where he worked on film and on the photography project “Cinematic Occupation” (forthcoming in a book of the same title). He has taught film at The New School, New York, and is currently head of the directing programme at the German Film and Television Academy, Berlin.

Prashant Keshavmurthy is Assistant Professor of Persian Studies at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. He completed his dissertation at Columbia University. In his dissertation, Keshavmurthy first analyzed the conceptions of fiction and its authorship in Persian and Urdu literary cultures of the 13th and 18th centuries. Subsequently, he examined the paradigmatic shift in mimesis in the Urdu literary world after 1857 which resulted in the interpretative obscuration of this pre‐colonial heritage. Keshavmurthy's interests include literary translation, pre‐colonial literary theory and culture, Mughal urban history and literary modernity in Urdu.

Arnaud Maillet is Assistant Professor of Art History at the Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). His research encompasses Histories of art, vision, and the imagination. He is the author of The Claude Glass: Use and Meaning of the Black Mirror in Western Art (Zone Books, 2004. French ed.: 2005) and Prothèses lunatiques: Les lunettes, de la science aux fantasmes (Kargo/Editions Amsterdam, 2008. Italian translation: 2010).

Doreen Mende is a curator and theorist based in Berlin. She has been Fellow at the Research Center of the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut in 2011. A current strand is the project Double Bound Economies that develops methodologies of collective curating in order to perform an image archive from the GDR. Mende is Theory Mentor at the Dutch Art Institute and PhD-candidate in Curatorial/Knowledge at Goldsmiths, London.

Adam Mestyan is a historian, specialized in 19th century Arab and Ottoman cultural history. He graduated in Philosophy of Art (MA, 2004), and Arabic and Semitic Philology (MA, 2005) at ELTE, Budapest. He also studied Arabic in Tunisia, Kuwait, and Egypt as well as Ottoman Turkish in Budapest and Istanbul. After pursuing a third MA in Comparative History (2007) at CEU, his doctoral dissertation, entitled "'A garden with mellow fruits of refinement' – Music Theatres and Politics in Istanbul and Cairo (1867-1892)" (CEU, 2011) was based on extensive research in Turkish, Egyptian, and French archives. Mestyan's comparative study examines the early cultural politics in the Middle East via music theatres, understanding theatre as a hierarchical public space incorporated in or excluded from official funding. He explores late 19th century colonial Egypt within its Ottoman setting thus contributing to the study of cosmopolitanism and Mediterranean networks, and late Ottoman urban history.

Adrian Gh. Podoleanu received the Ph.D. degree in Electronics from the Electronics and Telecommunications Faculty, Technical University of Bucharest, Romania in 1984. As associate professor at the same university, he taught Physics, Optics and Optoelectronics and developed research on lasers and fast optoelectronics. Since 2004 he is a Full Professor of Biomedical Optics in the School of Physical Sciences at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK and heads the Applied Optics Group.  His research interests focus on optical coherence tomography, imaging the eye and optical sensing. He was awarded a European Research Council Advanced Research Fellowship 2010-2015, a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2004 – 2006 and The Romanian Academy "Constantin Miculescu" prize for research in Lasers and Nonlinear Optics in 1984.

Alberto Saviello studied history of art, modern history and Romance philology in Düsseldorf, Rome, and Munich, where he earned his PhD from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, in 2011. He was a researcher and a fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, between 2009-10. Since summer 2011 he is a researcher in the DFG sponsored research group “Transcultural Negotiations in the Ambits of Art” at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he’s working on his project Saints in the Outland: Images of Sacrality as Agents and Relics of Christian-Islamic Encounters.

Adania Shibli earned her PhD from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of East London (UEL) in 2009. Her PhD research "Visual Terror" explored the visual compositions of “terror” in the "War on Terror". Shibli worked as a lecturer at the School of Critical Theory and Cultural Studies, University of Nottingham (2005-2009), and was a guest lecturer at the L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris in 2008. Since 2011, she has been convening a Visual Culture study and research group at the Institute of Women Studies at Bir Zeit University in Palestine.

Eyal Weizman is professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he directs the Centre for Research Architecture and the European Research Council funded project Forensic Architecture. He is also a founder member of the collective Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) in Beit Sahour, Palestine. He is the author of Hollow Land, The Least of All Possible Evils, and co-editor of A Civilian Occupation.

Siegfried Zielinski is the Founding Rector of the Academy of Arts and the Media Cologne. He also holds the chair for media theory / archaeology and Variantology of the media at Berlin University of the Arts, Michel-Foucault-professor for techno-aesthetics and media archaeology at the European Graduate School Saas Fee, and director of the _Vilém_Flusser_Archive. His most recent books in English are: Deep Time of the Media (2006); Variantology  – On Deep Time Relations between Arts, Sciences and Technologies, 5 vols. (2005–2011). Zielinski is a member of the Academy of Sciences and the Arts NRW, the Academy of Arts Berlin and the Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain.



Friday, June 22:Workshop
10 am – 10.30 am
Introduction Adania Shibli(EUME Fellow 2011/12 / Birzeit University, Ramallah)

10.30 am – 1.30 pm
Session I: Mirrors and Vision
Sven Dupré (Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte), Where is the Image? How Renaissance Mathematicians Made Sense of Mirrors
Adrian Podoleanu (University of Kent, Canterbury), Understanding The Mirror (A technical approach)
Siegfried Zielinski (Universität der Künste Berlin), Looking Through & Looking At (A media theoretical approach)
Discussion moderated by Prashant Keshavmurthy (Zukunftsphilologie Fellow 2011-12 / McGill University)

2.30 pm – 5.30 pm
Session II: Luminous Reflections
Hans Belting
 (Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe), Mirror and Vision (A cross cultural view)
Alberto Saviello (Freie Universität Berlin), Man in the Mirror
Mohammed Hamdouni Alami (University of California, Berkeley / Rabat), Gaze and Vision in Early Islamic Thought
Discussion moderated by Islam Dayeh (Zukunftsphilologie / Freie Universität Berlin)

Saturday, June 23: Workshop
10 am – 1 pm
Session III: The Law of Mirrors
Arnaud Maillet
 (Université Paris-Sorbonne), Ink Mirrors in Western Europe and the Middle East: Images, Visions and Imagination
Hans-Magnus Egger (Lawyer, Bozen), The Role of Mirrors in the Relations between the Legal System and Individuals
Eyal Weizman (Goldsmith University of London), The Sovereign is S/He who Stands Behind the (One Way) Mirror
Discussion moderated by Adam Mestyan (EUME Fellow 2011/12 / Budapest)

2 pm – 5.30 pm
Session IV - Reality vs. Reflection
Miranda Anderson
 (University of Edinburgh), Natural-Born Mirrors and Extended Reflexivity in Shakespeare and Beyond
Hoda Barakat (Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin 2011/12 / Beirut), Is the Novelist Mirrored in his Characters?
Doreen Mende (Goldsmith University of London), “Terrified, to find myself in front of a mirror without any images”
Kamal al-Jafari (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin), Escape as a Reflection
Discussion moderated by Adania Shibli

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