Today’s guest post comes from Anna Mudd, Curriculum Coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Outreach Center and MTS ’09.
Last month, I helped convene two workshops focused on exploring visual representation of academic ideas, work, and research. The workshops were held by the Outreach Center at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program (PABT), with support from the Marshall S. Cogan Visual Arts Fund and the Learning From Performers program of the Office for the Arts at Harvard.
PABT Program Assistant, Krystina Friedlander, made “Tumbling,” a work in which images let her express other states of being and understanding. She explains, “I created this piece after reading Amira Mittermaier’s fascinating ethnography on dreaming in contemporary Cairo, Dreams That Matter… I wanted to convey the feeling of being-in-mind that dreaming is for me, exploring fantastic landscapes without moving the body, hence the heads tumbling across a field of whirling dervishes.”
A visiting researcher at Harvard’s Project Zero dropped by the exhibit and told us about his work on how visual mark making can help not only express but process information. Several of the exhibit works explored drawing as a form of thinking. As freshman Daniel Hilhorst put it, “Drawing Words and Writing Pictures speaks to me as a notion about how one thinks of communication.”
Daniel’s piece mixed photography with the “cartoonish boxes and illustrations” he uses to record math lectures. “In my work as a student, and as an aspiring artist, message, meaning, image, and feeling are all connected.” I loved Daniel’s work, as my own drawing tends to spill over from note taking and reflection recording. Including images when recording or responding to academic work really forces you to consider what words actually “do,” to ask when they are necessary and when they fall short. One of the reflection pieces I contributed to the exhibition explores the role of authority and identity in the scientific community. Here, sketching the person I am writing about helped me to situate him, and visualizing the concepts of depth, isolation, and connection that informed my reflections made the pieces of work feel like a more immediate expression of my own thinking.
Sadaf Jaffer, a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, explored drawing as a way to share her doctoral research: her dissertation “is about social justice in the work of Urdu writer and Indian Intellectual Ismat Chughtai (1911-1991).” Chughtai’s “use of multiple art forms has encouraged me to think about the importance and integration of visual art and the written word,” Sadaf explained. Her piece, “The Quilt,” seeks to “set the scene for a graphic art adaption” of one of Chughtai’s short stories, also titled “The Quilt.” “For the English and Urdu title, I have used the font style of the Urdu journals in which [Chughtai’s] work was published. The rest of the scene is inspired by Mughal miniature art and attempts to portray the most important characters of the story.”