Call for Papers – Symmetry and Islamic Aesthetics: Re/Constructing the Aleppo Minbar

Call for Papers (due 1 May 2019)

An Interdisciplinary Panel

Symmetry and Islamic Aesthetics: Re/Constructing the Aleppo Minbar

Organized by Rima Ajlouni, University of Utah, and Carol Bier, Graduate Theological Union

The envisioned interdisciplinary and multidimensional panel seeks to address the simultaneity of symmetry and asymmetry in the cultural dynamics of the Aleppo minbar, with particular focus on its materiality, structure, forms, and patterns, and its meaning in diverse contexts, reconsidered in light of what is known today.

Anticipating the end of the Crusades, Nur al-Din al-Zangi (d. 1174), who ruled from Damascus, commissioned a wood minbar for Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Architectural in form, it was masterfully carved by a skilled carpenter and craftsmen in Aleppo, replete with elegant floral designs, intricate geometric patterns inlaid with precious ivory and ebony, and three-dimensional muqarnas, all of which exhibit symmetry as an organizing principle. Lines of Arabic calligraphy introduce the natural asymmetry of language, carved in relief and set against a backdrop of scrolling vines; the curvilinear script conveys selected passages from the Qur’an, as well as historical information including the names of master craftsmen. The Aleppo minbar was transported to Jerusalem and installed in its intended location in 1187, after Saladin recaptured Jerusalem. There it served its Muslim communities as the venue for Friday sermons for eight centuries, until 1969 when it was destroyed by fire set by an arsonist.

A new wood minbar, replicating the original, was built in Jordan by craftsmen from Turkey, Egypt, and Indonesia, with ivory and ebony from the Sudan. The reconstruction effort was based upon historical black & white photographs in the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and those taken by K. A. C. Creswell in the early 20th century now in the Creswell Archive of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford UK. Extracting the exact geometry from the images proved to be very challenging. For more than three years, Rima Ajlouni, an architect from Jordan, analyzed the original patterns and prepared the working details for the new replica. Careful analysis of its original construction and design, in comparison with other extant wood minbars, clarified understanding of the geometry, floral ornament, and Arabic script, which has led to further consideration of the uses of symmetry and Islamic aesthetics in the 11thand 12thcenturies. Reification of the patterns has contributed to the recovery of lost craft traditions. A direct result of this preservation effort is the establishment of the Institute of Traditional Islamic Arts & Architecture (ITIAA) in Jordan.

Prospective paper abstracts are due by May 1, 2019, by e-mail to both Rima Ajlouni ajlouni@arch.utah.eduand Carol Bier We anticipate initial notification regarding proposed abstracts by 1 June 2019. For abstracts accepted at this stage for consideration at the conference, papers suitable for publication according to the prescribed SIS-Symmetry format would be due in draft to the conference organizers by June 30 (final notification July 30).

Established in 1989, the International Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Symmetry, also known as the International Symmetry Society, exists as a friendly framework for interdisciplinary discovery. Members come from the sciences and mathematics, the fine arts, and such disciplines as languages, philosophy, and computer science.

Read more at the conference website

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