Tate Research Center for Material Culture

“Spiritual Affects against a Secularist Grid: Rethinking Modernism and Islam/ic Art”
Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam | February 2023

In February 2023, FSA Director of Programs Leeza Ahmady inaugurated the seminar, “Spiritual Affects Against a Secularist Grid: Rethinking Modernism & Islam/ic Art,” organized by Tate Research Center at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, with a keynote lecture. Inspired by Wendy K. M. Shaw’s seminal essay, artists, museum professionals, and art historians were invited to contribute to the field and notion of “Islamic art” in the context of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ahmady’s keynote, “Revelation in Tongues: Learning to Speak Spirituality & Religion in Contemporary Art,” set the stage for the event, addressing the absence of a specified language and emphasizing the topic’s significance in inviting everyone to consider new perspectives and strategies for integrating spiritual beliefs in contemporary art within secular spaces. (Please find her full address/paper linked below).

Over two days, these participants collaboratively examined the entangled legacies of orientalism and nationalism concerning the secularity of museum spaces. The discussions underscored the need for new approaches and literacies, taking a transnational view of framing “the Islamic” and “Islamic art” as subfields evoked in contexts ranging from Western Europe, West Asia, Central Asia, and North Africa. 

FSA Visionary and 2023 scholar-in-residence Hassan Vawda summarizes and captures the seminar’s significance in his published report, acknowledging the complexities involved working in or adjacent to “Islamic art” contexts in museums and art spaces. The event provided a vital arena for speakers to reflect on limitations, contradictions, and tensions within the field. (See Vawda’s published report linked below).

Image: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, “Something Old Something New,” 1974.