Avinoam Shalem

Avinoam Shalem

Visiting Professor
Between Black and Brown Africa: For Critical Re-Writing of Mediterranean Histories
2023-2024 (June), 2022-2023 (May-June)
Avinoam Shalem


Avinoam Shalem is an art historian. He holds the Riggio Professorship for the Arts of Islam at Columbia University in New York. He has published extensively on the arts of Islam, especially arts of the object. His main field of interest is the global context of the visual cultures of the world of Islam, mainly in the Mediterranean, Near East, North Africa, Spain, South Italy and Sicily, medieval aesthetic thoughts on visual arts and craftsmanship, the image of 'Islamic' art, and the historiography of the field.

Project Summary

The project “Between Black and Brown Africa: For Critical Re-Writing of Mediterranean Histories” is part of Black Mediterranean / Mediterraneo Nero – Artistic Encounters and Counter-narratives / Incontri artistici e contronarrazioni. It investigates the ‘whitening’ of the histories of ancient and medieval North Africa, which culminated in the modern assumption that North Africa is, in fact, “white Africa” and that North African histories – and for some good reasons, one should admit – should be incorporated into the large and fluid cultural zone called the Mediterranean. Yet, how should we, art historians, address and treat the specific geographical space called North Africa? How can we assure to fully face it with the colonial, and rather racial, theories for the writings on global human histories of civilizations? How can we make sure that North Africa’s wide network of connectivity with other cultural spaces, like, for example, Black Africa, Mid Saharan kingdoms, Berber culture, Islamic and islamicate world in Asia, and even the Indian Ocean, is being told? This research takes this investigative path by shaking the deliberately and ideologically manipulated adjective “Mediterranean”; a term which has been and still is associated with this space. It also questions Mediterraneanism as a frame of thinking and matrix of interpretation for medieval and early modern North African art and architecture.