EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 03 Nov 2021 | 17:00–18:30

“I pass, yet my image remains, so be amazed!” – Early Representations of the ‘Public Intellectual’ in Beirut and Cairo

Hala Auji (American University of Beirut / EUME Fellow 2021/22), Chair: Zeina G. Halabi (American University of Beirut / EUME Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2018-21)

In cooperation with AL.Berlin as part of the AL.Festival.2021

“Image Collection of Eminent [Men] of the East.” Cairo: al-Hilal Press, ca. 1900. AUB Library/Archives (CA:956:M233mA:c.1)
“Image Collection of Eminent [Men] of the East.” Cairo: al-Hilal Press, ca. 1900. AUB Library/Archives (CA:956:M233mA:c.1)

Portraiture is possibly the most well-known—even cliché—pictorial mode in art and material culture today and has been so for centuries. In the case of the eastern Mediterranean, recent studies on portraiture, largely focused on painting and photography, have highlighted this genre’s significance in understanding the cultural and socio-political layers of the early modern era in the Ottoman world. While it was prevalent early on within imperial and/or elite circles, the genre only truly became popular amongst a mass audience with the rise of printed imagery—engravings of drawings, paintings, and photographs—in books, periodicals, and everyday printed matter that found its way to street cafes and storefront shutters. In Beirut and Cairo, which were under varied degrees of Ottoman rule during the late 1800s, print served as the medium through which the personae of local, Arabic-speaking scholars—many of whom belonged to the empire’s religious minorities—were conceptualized, produced, and mediated within the public sphere via the printed portrait.

This talk will explore a series of portraits, printed posthumously, of Syrian intellectuals in Beirut and Cairo, with a focus on Nasif al-Yaziji (amongst others), whose work was important to the fin de siècle cultural movement known as the nahda (renaissance). In considering the importance of visuality to an understanding of authorship, publishing, and the public sphere at the turn of the twentieth century, this talk will show how the nahda’s contributions and impact were not logocentric. The printed images, which crossed, and blurred, media boundaries, typically appeared alongside texts—like biographies and epitaphs—and, together, exemplified shifting views on authorship, representation, and vision/perception. In addition to exploring how such images may have been used to conceptualize—and then popularize and canonize—the idea of the public intellectual, this talk will also briefly reflect on how the study of printed imagery makes visible the typically “invisible” labor at regional presses, with important ramifications for a translocal/transregional visual history.

Hala Auji is Associate Professor of Art History at the American University of Beirut where she teaches courses on Middle Eastern and Islamic art. She holds an MA in Criticism and Theory from Art Center College of Design (Pasadena) and a PhD in Art History from Binghamton University, State University of New York. Her work explores the visual dimensions of modernity in the eastern Mediterranean in relationship to knowledge production, print culture, book history, museum and collecting practices, and portraiture. Her first book, Printing Arab Modernity: Book Culture and the American Press in Nineteenth-Century Beirut (Brill, 2016), explored the growing significance of the aesthetic dimensions of print culture in Ottoman Syria and its contribution to wider discourses on socio-cultural modernization and reform. She has also published research in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique moderne et contemporain, Review of Middle East Studies, Visible Language, and the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, among other venues. As a 2021/22 EUME fellow with the Forum Transregionale Studien, she is working on her second monograph tentatively entitled “Pictorial Impressions: The Making of Printed Portraiture in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

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