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Object Narratives explicate religious images, objects, monuments, buildings, or spaces in 1500 words or less.

Volume 6: Issue 2 Material Islam

A special issue guest edited by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri and Anna Bigelow. 

  • Kambiz GhaneaBassiri
    The marketing of “wudhu socks" provides an interesting window onto how the forces of consumer capitalism in twenty-first-century America are brought to bear on a centuries-old hermeneutical, legal, and theological tradition in Islam that has long conceptualized purity through embodiment and objects.
  • Karen Ruffle
    The Bībī kā ʿalam, as it is popularly known, occupies a special, sacred class of ʿalams for the Hyderabadi Shiʿa. Containing Fatimah’s funerary plank, is a reliquary ʿalam and, while Hyderabad is distinctive for the extraordinary number of relics it possesses that are associated with the Imams and Ahl-e Bait, very few connect to Shiʿi women saints.
  • Jonathan E. Brockopp
    A parchment bifolio from the Kairouan collection presents a mystery. But like pottery in an archeological dig, this fragment is in situ, and clues to the identity of the author, the text, and the community of scholars that wrote and preserved it, are found in the rich context of this unique collection. Together, these manuscripts bear witness to a fascinating history of literary and cultural production, not only in North Africa, but in the broader Islamic world of the ninth and tenth century.
  • Kylie Gilchrist
    Rasheed Araeen’s Bismullah is noteworthy as the first work by the Karachi-born, London-based artist to enter the collection of Britain’s Tate Gallery in 1995. Bismullah deploys strategies of juxtaposition, disjunction, and doubling to combine visual imagery that references religion, empire, art history, and the artist’s personal biography. Through its montage tactics Bismullah not only maps the binaries of self and other that structure colonial discourse within and beyond the artistic field, but also recontextualizes these signifiers.
  • Rose Aslan
    Hüdayi Yolu represents a modern artist’s loving depiction of his hometown and neighborhood, an homage to a local Sufi saint, the romanticized communal memory of Istanbul as an Ottoman metropolis, and Barutçugil’s approach to “Sufi” art.
  • Max Johnson Dugan
    Crowned by the word “Allah,” a dense piece of Arabic calligraphy carved out of stainless steel wraps around an embellished center. The text is the ayat al-kursī, or “The Throne Verse,” a portion of the Qur’an (2:256) often recited before sleep or travel because of its reputation for spiritual and physical protection. While the Illinois-based company Modern Wall Art produces the above “Ayat Al Kursi Round,” at least six other businesses manufacture their own ayat al-kursī pieces in the same circular visual style. These pieces of Islamic decor appeal to different tastes in spite of the repetitiveness of their visual content. By attending to the specific production method and branding of “Ayat Al Kursi Round,” we can identify how the materialization of God’s words in wall art entangles Islamic ethics and the aesthetics of class formation.
Volume 6: Issue 1
  • Jonathan Homrighausen
    Donald Jackson’s The Black Cross illustrates some of the ways contemporary calligraphic art engages sacred writ: through the interplay of word and image, recording the artist’s physical gestures, and making visible the divine.
Volume 5: Issue 1
Volume 4: Issue 1
  • Alessandra Amin
    Since its construction around the turn of the twentieth century, Our Lady of Diman has served as the summer residence of the Maronite Catholic Patriarch. The prestige of the building is everywhere apparent: in the inlaid marble floor, in the gold and blue panes of the stained-glass windows. The church’s most remarkable feature, however, is the ceiling over its nave, with frescoes completed in the late 1930s by celebrated Lebanese painter Saliba Douaihy (1913-1994).
  • Jonathan Boyarin
    This Ets Chayim, a Tree of Life, is obsolete, redundant, out of time and out of place. It is detached both from the Torah scroll for which it was made, and from its mate that once served that scroll’s other end. It is not supposed to be here anymore—here, that is, in a transformed, glass-sheathed, twenty-first-century Lower East Side, where the traces of immigrant life have been erased, sanitized, and gathered into museums, or commodified as “atmosphere” for an urban playground. Perhaps the act of marking it—noting its persistence beyond obsolescence, shorn of the text to which it was once an auxiliary, bereft of the hands that once grasped it and the congregation that once stood as it was lifted up—is a minor act of resistance in itself.
  • Didier Aubert
    In Judío, photographer Fernando Brito attempts to find an ad-hoc visual representation for the Yoremem or Mayo Indians in his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico. This portrait pays tribute to the foundational value of the community’s ritual, which combines indigenous cosmology with seventeenth-century Jesuit influence, as crucial to its survival and cohesion.
  • Alanna E. Cooper
    Pagiel Leviyev’s house is very sick. Built in Samarkand over a century ago, the structure was designed as a mansion for a wealthy mercantile family. Today, it stands as a crumbling reminder of the Jewish community’s long and complex history in this unexpected spot of the world.
Volume 2: Issue 1
Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion

MAVCOR began publishing Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in 2014. In 2017 we selected a new name, MAVCOR Journal. Articles published prior to 2017 are considered part of Conversations and are listed as such under Volumes in the MAVCOR Journal menu.

  • M. Shobhana Xavier
    An ethnically and religiously diverse spiritual community near Philadelphia founded by a Tamil teacher from Sri Lanka.
  • M. Shobhana Xavier
    The role material culture has played in the introduction of non-Christian forms of spirituality into the United States as examined through Sufi art.
  • Gregory Price Grieve
    What does a virtual meditation cushion tell us about material and visual cultures of religion?
  • Stephanie Bilinksy
    Ex-votos at the Shrine of St. Roch occupy a complex place within conceptions of New Orleans as the subject of Protestant fascination with exoticized material aspects of Catholic practice.
  • Eleanor A. Laughlin
    The carte-de-visite of Maximilian von Habsburg’s shirt satisfied a sensational interest in the political event and served as a mourning object, offering the living both visual and tactile connections to the deceased to aid in the grieving process.
  • This painting depicts an idealized vision of Aztec life set in a manicured garden setting. The placid scene consists of a tan-skinned woman in a white tunic with a yellow cape strolling past a nude man on a bench. He reclines back and offers her flowers.
    Breanne Robertson
    Utah artist George Martin Ottinger painted Aztec Maiden during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when numerous theories proliferated about the history and origins of indigenous American civilizations.
  • Emily Engel
    Material objects, including a group of documentary paintings of Our Lady of Cocharcas, recall the processes by which ancient Andean pilgrimage traditions became deeply integrated into late-colonial socio-religious consciousness.
  • A large wooden figure has an oversized head with carved scarification. Flat breasts with carved, erect nipples and scarification flow over the sculpture's curved, four-legged base. The work's face has large ears and a rounded, protruding nose.
    Frederick John Lamp
    What is the meaning of the word "spirit" in Africa?
  • In a black and white photo, a young light-skinned man wears a slightly rumpled suit jacket. He looks up and out of the picture frame in the portrait.
    Lindsay Reckson
    Early debates around the use of the electric chair pivoted on the convergence of state and divine power.
  • A circular tortoiseshell frame holds an embroidered image of an enthroned Virgin wearing a light blue cloak and holding the Christ child. Both wear royal coronets. A treasure chest lies open on the ground at their feet.
    Cristina Cruz González
    Nun's badges worn in colonial New Spain not only articulated a woman’s religious affiliations, family fortune, and ethnic purity but also expressed her desire to influence political opinion.
  • A white t-shirt with blue lettering that reads "Adonai" is displayed on a black clothing form. The text uses the same geometric sans font used by Adidas, and the trefoil corporate logo is included in blue above the "ai."
    Anne Grant
    The t-shirt’s appropriation of a multinational sportswear corporation’s logo into a sacred Hebrew name for God could be simply a clever play on words, but a more critical approach might take into account the commodification of this sacred name for the deity and its subsequent selling in the marketplace for profit.
  • In this painting, a light-skinned man in a black waistcoat raises his hand and addresses a large assembly of figures. They wear stereotypical American Indian dress of hide clothes and red or blue cloaks. Teepees stand in the background.
    Nathan Rees
    Although LDS doctrine esteemed Native Americans as literal descendants of the peoples of the Book of Mormon, relations between Mormons and Indians in Utah grew increasingly strained as resources became scarce. Christensen’s work reflects this divided perspective.
  • A gem-encrusted gold altar is a squat rectangular box with a white-speckled porphyry top. Archangels, apostles, and Christ are shown within a colonnade depicted on the object's sides.
    Crispin Paine
    The portable altar seems to have developed in the missionary world of the seventh century, to meet the Church's requirement that Mass be celebrated only on a consecrated altar—a requirement that strengthened the position of bishops, who alone could consecrate them.
  • Akela Reason
    In his 1880 The Crucifixion, Thomas Eakins, a reputed agnostic, crafted a realist interpretation of one of the central devotional subjects in Christian art, challenging the traditional iconography of the crucifixion by eliminating all signs of divine presence.
  • Sally M. Promey
    Visibly claiming to regulate the prescribed Christian imitation of the biblical figures they represented, late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century statues of light-complexioned religious figures populated domestic spaces, churches, and missions fields, and implied that looking like Jesus or Mary or John might be more “natural” or “complete” for some than for others.
  • A black and white photo depicts a dark-skinned woman in a white veil cradling a swaddled baby close to her chest. She folds her hands in her lap and casts her eyes down. A nativity star is visible in the righthand corner of the photo.
    Camara Dia Holloway
    During the Harlem Renaissance, mother and child portraits and figure studies were especially popular in the African American media, signaling the importance placed on motherhood and the nurturing of future generations.
  • The rectangular swaths of color on a color field painting do not extend to the end of the canvas. A red stripe at the center lies below a larger section of yellow and above a hazy rectangle of orange.
    Andrea Pappas
    Strong, gestural markings in the central red band distinguish this painting from Rothko’s other mature works. This anomaly consists of long, gently undulating lines formed by gouging the surface of the paint all the way to the canvas before it dried. Straining out from a central point, the horizontal lines contrast sharply with the fuzzy, indeterminate edges of the other elements of the painting.
  • A busy painting captures a profusion of 19th century figures in one crowded section of the sunny street. Men dig trenches or toss back drinks. Women grasp babies, hand out pamphets, hold baskets of flowers, and stroll by with parasols.
    Tim Barringer
    Ford Madox Brown’s allegory of labor in all its forms is the most ambitious Pre-Raphaelite painting of modern life and a profound meditation on the relationship between art, religion, and labor in Victorian society.
  • Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Peter Ahr
    The internationally famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1789–1838) was asked to produce a series of colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and the apostles for the new Neoclassical Vor Frue Kirke of Denmark. Of these, Christus (Christ) has become best-known. Copies of the sculpture, often true to size or even larger, can be found around the world.
  • The homemade cover of a book depicts a young man reclining in a row boat as he reads a book. The background of the watercolor and ink illustration is a deep red. A set of red and black beads are affixed to the flat image as a necklace on the man's neck.
    Kristin Schwain
    Rolando Estévez Jordán, a visual artist, and Alfredo Zaldívar, a poet, co-founded Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía (Watchtower Editions) in 1985 to create an open forum for writers, musicians, and artists.
  • A gold border encircles a braided piece of hair arranged in an arc on a book page. Bows are tied on the hair tips. Handwritten script below reads, "Mother. Died Dec. 16th 1867. Aged 56 years."
    Rachel McBride Lindsey
    What photograph albums teach us about nineteenth-century viewing habits is that the reach of religion extended beyond compositionally “religious” subjects. Modes of beholding were often forms of religious practice that did not require a regulated rift between sacred and secular.

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