Houston Art Historian Offers Insight on Islamic Culture

A historic look at Islamic art and culture will be the focus of a free lecture Thursday, Nov. 4, at The University of Texas at Arlington.

“A Thousand Years of ‘Feast and Lore’: The Shahnama of Firdawsi” will be presented by Dr. Francesca Leoni, Assistant Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, at 6 p.m. in Room 204 of the Architecture Building.

The event is sponsored by the His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Northern Texas and the Department of Art and Art History, in addition to the College of Liberal Arts and the Provost Office.

“Iran is currently very much in the U.S. media spotlight,” said Dr. Melia Belli, Assistant Professor of Art History. “However, beyond Iranian current events, most Americans know little about Iranian, or Persian, culture or history. Dr. Leoni’s lecture on the Shahnama paintings will give her audience a more rounded understanding of Iran’s art and history.”

Written by Persian poet Hakim Abul-Qasim Firdawsi Tusi around 1000 A.D., the Shahnama is one of the most important works of Iranian literature and history, Belli said. Over the centuries, various Persian rulers commissioned copies of the epic story and had it illustrated with richly detailed and lavishly ornamented miniature paintings.

“I can think of no better singular topic than the Shahnama paintings to introduce American students and other members of our community to Iranian culture,” Belli said.

Leoni, an assistant curator of Islamic art in the Houston museum, has studied Islamic art in Naples, Italy; London; Princeton University; and Rice University. Before moving to Texas, she was a Sylvan and Pamela Coleman Art History Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Aga Khan Council, a cultural organization, is working with UT Arlington to promote Thursday’s event in the DFW community.

The event is also part of the Festival of Ideas series. Each year, the Festival of Ideas Global Research Institute sponsors six events for the university academic community and the community at large through an endowment established by UT Arlington alumnus Mustaque Ahmed (’81). Leoni’s presentation is the second event of the 2010-2011 season.

For more information, contact the Department of Art and Art History office at (817) 272-2891.

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SOURCE: James Dunning, COLA Communications, 817-272-0601

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