Symposium speakers this year included Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, Doha Film Institute and Reach Out to Asia; the contemporary artists Lalla Essaydi, Shahzia Sikander and Hassan Hajjaj; and some of the leading curators, collectors and leaders in the field of contemporary Islamic art.
The opening address on November 4 was given by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, who told the attendees, “Contemporary Islamic art derives much of its power from its ability to give voice to a large section of the world population by being contemporary in form and Islamic in character.
“Some of its practitioners draw their inspiration from the past, referencing great Islamic civilizations through contemporary narratives. Other artists choose to address their culture by using contemporary art idioms not pertinent to any specific region or artistic practice, but relevant to their experiences and expressing their worldview.”
The keynote address, titled, “Gender, Power, and Tradition” was given by Lalla Essaydi. Her work, which often combines Islamic calligraphy with representations of the female form, addresses the complex reality of Arab female identity from the unique perspective of personal experience. In much of her work, she returns to her Moroccan girlhood, looking back on it as an adult woman caught somewhere between past and present, exploring the language in which to “speak” from this uncertain space.
Co-chairs Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom told Style that, "Many Americans today have come to associate Islam with terrorism and war, but the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposia are designed to showcase the long traditions of art and culture in the Muslim world.
“This year’s event in Richmond focuses on the artistic relationships between the past, the present, and the future, bringing together museum curators, collectors, artists, and academics. As always, the symposia will make the latest research accessible to the broadest possible audience, ranging from specialized students and scholars to the general public."
Other speakers at the Symposium included Venetia Porter, an Assistant Keeper (Curator), Islamic and Contemporary Middle East Art, at the British Museum; Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander, who is best known for contemporizing the traditional Indo-Persian discipline of miniature painting; Linda Komaroff: Curator of Islamic Art and Department Head, Art of the Middle East, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Newsha Tavakolian, a photojournalist and documentary photographer from Iran who in 2015 was nominated to join the legendary photo agency Magnum Photos, and photographer Hassan Hajjaj.
Somerset House in the UK recently held an exhibition by Hassan Hajjaj, titled, “Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane.” It was described as, “A homecoming exhibition of the British-Moroccan artist, showcasing his vibrant fusion of contemporary cultures through new and celebrated works.” At the Symposium, Hassan was in conversation with Alice Planel, and the title of their conversation was “Hub Wahad: On Finding Inspiration in a Community of Nomads.”
Students from VCUarts Qatar attended the symposium while in Richmond for the Qatar day event on the home campus. While at the symposium they met with Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Several of our Art History students and alumni also had the honor of introducing a number of the symposium speakers, such as Hassan Hajjaj, Venetia Porter, Shahzia Sikander, and Linda Komaroff. as well as Stefano Carboni, the Director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.