Dr. Maha AbdelMegeed (American University of Beirut)
Modern Arabic Language in the Throes of the ‘Urabi Revolt

Front page of the journal Abu Naddara Zar’a (The Man with the Blue Spectacles) 3 (1878), from the archives of the AUB.

The history of the Arabic language is yet to be written. The existing fragments, however, give a prominent position to the long 19th century as the era of language modernization. In this view, language modernization, language democratization, and language simplification are treated as equivalents—if not synonyms. They furnish the arc for the story about the effects that new media technology (like print and telegram), modern science, and nationalism have had on modernizing, democratizing, and simplifying Arabic.

Placing the ‘Urabi revolt (1879-1882) at its center, this project zooms in on the socio-political struggles shaping discourses on as well as practices of Arabic language in the late 19th century. In so doing, it uncovers how the conflicting transformations in this period are underpinned by the struggle over who is allowed to speak. The latter question takes the form of contentions over the definition of speaking (both in its relation to rationality and will, and to the proper form and register of Arabic language in which speaking, rather than “babbling,” could occur). Looked at in this way, the transformations in Arabic are not the seamless results of the emergence of the “new” (technology, science, and nationalism) as much as they are the conflictual traces of social struggle that predicates the specific forms in which the modern is embodied, including modern Arabic language itself.

Dr Ambra D’Antone (The Warburg Institute – School of Advanced Study – University of London)
The Persistence of Memory: Revivalism and Nationalism in Turkey and Greater Syria.

By Kıvanç from İstanbul, Turkey – İstanbul Toys Museum ( Karagöz And Hacivat), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4092519

At the intersection of the historiography of Surrealism and modern art, this project charts the emergence of key linguistic themes and critical terms that are found to be recurring in art historical writings in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria between 1930-1960. A particularly persistent notion was ‘the surreal’: a critical term translated from Surrealist discourses,  ‘the surreal’ in the art historiography of this region bestowed upon artworks the power to go beyond their present historical circumstances, extending into the past or the future and across geographical borders, connecting diverse individuals and artworks under shared aesthetic and philosophical aims. The surreal, in these quarters, complicated a univocal relationship between art making and rationalist epistemes and was employed by art historians in projects that sought to ‘rewrite’, revive or otherwise recircuit their national art production in writing, motivated by political and nationalist debates. Across different outputs, the project’s case studies include: the articulation of a Surrealist vocabulary through scientific methodologies in 1940s Syria; the writings on shadow theatre in 1940s Turkey by Ismayıl Hakkı Baltacıoğlu (1886-1978); the formulation of a Turkish ‘Kulturgeschichte’ in the writings of Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu (1908-1985).

Dr Ambra D’Antone is a historian of Surrealism and Modernism, with a particular focus on early to mid-twentieth century historiography of Turkey and Greater Syria. She is currently working as Research Associate of Bilderfahrzeuge International Research Project, based at The Warburg Institute in London, conducted in cooperation with the Max Weber Foundation. Recent publications include “Looking Past: Turkish Surrealism in Translation”, in Surrealism in North Africa and Western Asia: Crossings and Encounters, edited by Monique Bellan and Julia Drost (Ergon, 2021) and “Taking Time: Fateh Moudarres’ Works on Paper and Syrian Chronology between Modernity and Contemporaneity”, in Hiwar: Sense and Intuition. Edited by Mouna Atassi and Shireen Atassi (Kaph Books, 2022). Dr. D’Antone is currently a Gerald D. Feldman postdoctoral research fellow at the Orient-Institut Istanbul

Suzanne Compagnon, M.A. M.A. (Marietta Blau Scholarship Awardee, University of Vienna and Sabancı University)
Clothed figures and representation in Ottoman book painting

Album Arabe 6077, BnF, Paris (Working foto of the author with permission of the French National Library.

The PhD project focuses on two groups of Ottoman paintings from the eighteenth century, which all exhibit a clear interest in the depiction of dress. These are single sheet paintings attributed to Abdülcelil Çelebi Levni (d. 1732) and others linked to Abdullah Buhari (active between 1726 and 1745). The thesis uses codicology to sketch the history of the single sheets as well as the albums which incorporate them. The codicological study of the corpus forms the basis for the discussion of representation in single sheet paintings attributed to Levni and Buhari. The prevalent opinion on these works is that they reflect the process of “Westernisation” believed to be taking place in the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century. This concept is rarely defined precisely, but when used in connection to these paintings, it can be understood as an interest in European art and European illusionistic representational techniques. Thus, the existing scholarship considers that in this period Ottoman painters were consciously adopting “shading”, “perspective”, and a greater “realism”, all of which are framed as “Western” artistic features. However, it is clear when looking at the paintings that these from art history are applied to different artistic phenomena. In addition to its vagueness, the framework of “Westernisation” gives a disproportionate weight to all things European and fails to discuss the importance of depictions from other parts of the Islamic world for understanding the works attributed to Levni and Buhari. The PhD project offers a comprehensive theoretical discussion of representation in Ottoman book painting as well as the first critical study of clothing as a subject matter in this area.