Joint I Tatti / KHI Lecture. Between Black and Brown Africa: For a Critical Re-Writing of Mediterranean Histories


Thursday, June 6, 2024, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


I Tatti, Myron and Sheila Gilmore Limonaia
stamp or tunisian republic, detail

Speaker: Avinoam Shalem (I Tatti / Columbia University)

This study focuses on North Africa and on the long tendency of the so-called ‘whitening’ of the histories of ancient and medieval North Africa, which culminated in the modern assumption that North Africa is in fact “white Africa”. It also raises the query as to why North Africa’s histories – for some good reasons, one has to admit – should be incorporated into the large and fluid cultural zone called the Mediterranean. How should we, art historians, address and treat this specific geographical space called North Africa? How can we assure to fully face it with the colonial, and rather racial, theories while we write 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’ cultures, Islamic and islamicate world in Asia, and even the Indian Ocean, is being told? This lecture takes this investigative path by shaking the deliberately and ideologically manipulated adjective “Mediterranean”, which has been and still is, associated with this space. Moreover, it questions Mediterraneanism as a frame of thinking and matrix of interpretation for medieval and early modern North African art and architecture and for the fabricating of European art history too.

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.



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