Sufi Arts: South Asia and Beyond

Saturday, October 13, 2018, 10:30 AM - 1 PM

Join us for a morning of talks exploring Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. The program will explore the contributions of Sufi patrons, artists, builders, and poets to South Asia’s history and culture. Hear from art historian Murad Khan Mumtaz, architectural historian Peyvand Firouzeh, and religious studies scholar Omid Safi as they discuss the richness of Sufi culture, its endurance through centuries of change and conflict in South Asia, and Sufi themes of peace and harmony among all communities.

This program is presented in conjunction with the conference “Piety, Poetry, and Pluralism: Sufism in South Asia,” held at Georgetown University on October 12, 2018. The morning program at the Freer|Sackler on October 13 will be followed by a 7:30 pm performance of Sufi music in the Meyer Auditorium.

Part 1: Murad Khan Mumtaz on Images of Guidance, Power, and Devotion: Representations of Sufis in South Asian Painting
In medieval and early modern South Asia, Sufis navigated freely between different social strata and played a variety of social roles. This talk will examine the representation of Sufis in Indian painting. Mumtaz will highlight Sufi romances of the sixteenth century, paintings made for the great Mughal rulers Akbar and Jahangir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and portraits made for elite practitioners of Sufism, such as Princess Jahanara, as well as for Kashmiri and Punjabi patrons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Through these examples, the talk will explore Sufism’s widespread influence in South Asian culture and how artworks’ function and meaning changed according to patrons’ needs.

Murad Khan Mumtaz is an artist and art historian. A native of Lahore, Pakistan, Mumtaz was educated at Pakistan’s National College of Arts, where he first studied Indo-Persian painting. He later completed an MFA in visual art at Columbia University and received his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2018. He recently joined the art history faculty at Williams College as an assistant professor.

Part 2: Peyvand Firouzeh on Spatial Authority at the Dargah: Mapping the Politics of Power and Devotion
This talk will explore the relationship between political and religious power as represented in the dargah, or Sufi lodge, in South Asia. After introducing the dargah, Firouzeh will focus on examples from Deccan India under the Bahmanid dynasty (1347–1528). Looking into the textual, visual, and spatial elements of these sacred sites on both the local and global levels, the talk will address questions of royal and urban patronage, the interconnected networks of Sufis and artists, and strategies of religious and political self-fashioning.

Peyvand Firouzeh specializes in medieval and early modern art and material culture from the Islamic world. Her research interests include sacred art and architecture and the mobility of artistic and intellectual networks within and beyond the Persianate world. In 2018–19, she is a Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art based at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. She holds degrees in architecture, history of art and architecture, and Asian and Middle Eastern studies from the Tehran University of Art and the University of Cambridge.

Part 3: Omid Safi on Radical Love: New Poetry Translations
One of the dominant poetic themes in the Persianate tradition in both Iran and South Asia has been that of the Mazhab-e ‘Eshq (The path of radical love). This idea, featured prominently in the work of poets like Rumi, Attar, Hafez, Sa’di, and Nezami, asserts that there is ultimately “One Love” that is connected to the force of creation and the sustenance of life. Safi will comment on this poetic tradition through his fresh translations, made directly from the original sources, in his new volume published by Yale University Press.

Omid Safi is the director of the Duke University Islamic Studies Center and a professor of Iranian studies, specializing in the study of Islamic mysticism and contemporary Islam. His books include Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism; Cambridge Companion to American Islam; Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam; and Memories of Muhammad. His most recent book is Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Traditions, which has just been published by Yale University Press. Safi is among the most sought-after speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, as well as on PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, and other international outlets. In addition, he leads Illuminated Tours, a travel program focused on the Sufi poetic legacy in Turkey and Morocco.

  • Venue: Freer Gallery of Art
  • Event Location: Meyer Auditorium
  • Cost: Free; no registration required