Professor Kana’an is a historian of Islamic art and Architecture at the University of Toronto. Her primary research focuses on the Intersections between art, artists, art production, and law in historical and contemporary contexts. She uses field-based, archival, and textual research in her work. She has conducted research in Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Yemen, Oman, East Africa, Egypt and Syria. Her architectural research explores how the understanding of the architecture of Muslim societies is transformed and, at times, enhanced by examining juridical and theological textual sources in a variety of languages including Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Persian. She is currently researching and writing a book on the function and symbolism of the architecture of Friday mosques. Her professional experience spans the worlds of academia, architectural practice, museums, and community-based art education. Between 2011 and 2017 she was a founding member of the Leadership Team at Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (AKM) and headed its Education and Scholarly Programs.
Presentation Title: Questioning the Exceptionalism of ‘Islamic Art’: Learning from the Arts of Mosul
Between 2014 and 2017, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ ISIL/DAESH occupied and devastated the historic city of Mosul. The destruction is reflected in both the devastation and dispersal of many if its diverse communities as well as the deliberate destruction of its urban fabric and architectural monuments. While there are currently concerted and quite admirable efforts to restore Mosul’s heritage as exemplified by the various projects under the umbrella of the UNESCO’s Revive the Spirit of Mosul initiative and Iraq’s ongoing effort to include the Old City of Mosul in the World Heritage List, the questions of how Mosul and its heritage are represented in world museums remain unanswered. This contribution to the Rethinking the Future of Islamic Art and Heritage explores how the current representation of Mosul’s art and architecture reflects a broader question about ‘Islamic art’ and offers an opportunity to rethink how it can be redefined. The paper explores the art and architecture of Mosul during the 12th and 13th centuries as a case study of the rich and diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious beliefs that are reflected the city’s visual and material culture. It demonstrates how the colonial classification systems that were predominantly based on an ‘Orientalist’ imaginaire of the exceptionalism of Islam and Muslims continue to underpin various structures of representation especially in museums.