Fall 2010 Abstracts & Bios

Lectures, Conferences & Events» Past Lectures & Events

Talinn Grigor
Reviving the Invented: The Neo-Achaemenid from Parsi Bombay to Qajar Tehran
In April 1854, when Manekji Limji Hataria landed in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, contact between the Parsis of India and their coreligious Zoroastrians in Qajar Iran had been sporadic since the fall of the Sassanian Empire in 651. Hataria had been sent to Iran by the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia, founded by affluent Parsi philanthropists based in Bombay. Hataria?s assignment was sizeable: he was to improve the legal, infrastructural, and sociopolitical conditions of Irani Zoroastrians, numbering some seven thousand souls, and concentrated in the provinces of Yazd and Kerman. An experienced diplomat and philanthropist, Hataria's forty-year effort, supported by steady Parsi money and British diplomatic protection, would prove pivotal not only to the progress of his adopted community but also, inadvertently, to the whole of Iran?s reform program in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Architecture, a major sphere of Parsi patronage, was one of the most vivid aspects of this colonial encounter.
Hataria?s activities were the beginning of the Parsi reformist affect on not only his adopted Zoroastrian community, but on the whole of the modern Iranian society well into the 20th century. For, as this paper demonstrates, though in normative architectural historiography, the neo-Achaemenid revival of the 1920s and 1930s, promoted by Western orientalists and erected under Reza Shah Pahlavi, is considered an artistic manifestation of Iranian nationalism, it is in fact to the 19th-century Parsi philanthropists of India that we ought to turn to for the origin of such a pivotal cultural movement and national identity; one that was initially endemic of (post)colonial conditions of in-between-ness and hybridity. Individual Parsi patrons, who thus impacted Indo-Persian arts and politics, operated from a range of marginal identities as Zoroastrians, as original Iranians, as British citizens, and as Indian subjects: in short, as local others. It is their dual perspective that both rendered their artistic vision unique and their politics effective. Here, moreover, we observe a shift in power politics that overturned the flow of cultural influence: the Parsis had for centuries perceived Persia as their motherland and Irani Zoroastrians as their socio-cultural model; now, with the rise of British hegemony, Zoroastrians were to turn to the Parsis of the Raj for the reinvention of a progressive modern-self. When, in 1913, the first fire temple was constructed in Tehran, it was designed on the “Parsi Plan”. This same „progressive modern-self? would, in due course, become the dominant national discourse of the Muslim reformists under the Pahlavis.
Talinn Grigor (PhD, MIT, 2005) is an Assistant Professor of modern and contemporary architecture in the Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis University. Her research concentrates on the cross-pollination of architecture and (post)colonial politics, focused on Iran and India. She is the author of "Building Iran: Modernism, Architecture, and National Heritage under the Pahlavi Monarchs" (Prestel, 2009). Her second book, "Of Kitsch, Avant-garde, and Exile: Contemporary Iranian Arts and Visual Culture" (Reaktion, 2011) is in production, so is a co-edited book on Iranian kingship and architecture. She is also the author of numerous articles that have appeared in the Art Bulletin, Getty Journal, Third Text, Future Anterior, Journal of Iranian Studies, Thresholds, and DOCOMOMO among others. She has received a postdoctoral fellowship at the Getty Research Institute; the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship from Cornell University; the Ittleson Predoctoral Fellowship from CASVA in the National Gallery of Art; grants from the Soudavar Memorial Foundation, the Soros Foundation, the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, and the Aga Khan Award at MIT. Her present project deals with the turn-of-the-century European art-historiography and its links to eclectic architecture in Qajar Iran and the British Raj.

Chad Oppenheim 
Adventures in Arabia and Beyond 
From 2007 onward, OPPENHEIM has participated in the wild ride of development in and around the Arabian Peninsula. The work attempts to create an appropriate archetype embedded with contextual and environmental sensitivity in a region that is reaching to strategically position itself at the leading edge of the latest and greatest. A sense of awe and wonderment with Arabic architecture and culture is evident through the design of cities and complete ecosystems to mixed-use towers and single family villas. Principal, Chad Oppenheim will share his intense experiences designing projects 8,000 miles from the firm's home base in Miami, Florida.
The architecture of OPPENHEIM is simultaneously daring and sensible, romantic and reductive, evocative and essential. An alchemist of atmosphere, OPPENHEIM transforms the prosaic into the poetic -- eliciting a site's inherent power through minimal gesture and sincere means. Spaces and structures, optimized for pleasure and performance, establish aesthetic delight with a passionate sensitivity towards humanity and nature.

Saleema Waraich
Mughal Monuments and the Politics of Memory
From the sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries, the Mughal emperors consolidated an empire that covered a large part of the South Asian subcontinent. One of their most formidable architectural feats involved constructing a network of strategically positioned forts that served as administrative and residential centers. The political and social significance of these sites continued long after the Mughal kings lost power: over the last century and a half, select structures have functioned as military quarters, interrogation centers, sites for national celebrations, and tourist destinations. Their layered and diverse histories were further augmented by independence from British rule in 1947, when this network of complexes was divided by the partition of India. The historic similarities between the forts of Lahore and Delhi help bring into relief how a shared history of Mughal rule is constructed differently today in a Muslim-majority state (Pakistan) and in comparison to a secular Hindu majority state where Muslims constitute a minority (India). This paper brings into dialogue narratives and debates that have evolved around these sibling sites, emphasizing the social construction of national difference. In addition to examining the ways in which memories of these two sites are politically bound, I address how the people of Pakistan, India, and beyond continue to subscribe to and contest these memories.
Highlighting the ideological concerns that have shaped preservation efforts, this paper will also examine the divergent conservation plans of each country in relation to nationalist discourses. As each country negotiates its relationship to history and heritage, the issue of authenticity has featured prominently in associated debates. My discussion examines the tension between constructions of authenticity when invoked in representations of a national identity and those used as a means for securing the place of Mughal forts as world heritage sites.
Prior to receiving a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at AKPIA@MIT, Saleema Waraich was a Lecturer and Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in Islamic Art and Architecture in the Department of Art at Smith College. She also served as an Assistant Curator at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. She received her Ph.D. in Art History and a concentration certificate from Women’s Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently completing her book, Contesting Muslim Spaces: Place, Power, and Representation in South Asia, which traces the histories, changing functions, and varied symbolisms of the administrative-residential capitals of Lahore, Delhi, and Dhaka from the Mughal period to the present. The book seeks to analyze the ways in which power and authority have been conceptualized and challenged in early modern, colonial and national contexts. Exploring the imagery, symbols, and narratives that surround these complexes, the project merges the study of visual culture with issues pertaining to memory, identity, and politics within and across borders.