Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur'anic Art in Indonesia

Peer Reviewed


Kenneth George, "Picturing Islam." 

In the November, 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Kenneth M. George examines what predicaments and crises are posed, whose interests are served, and what discourses are advanced when artists use the Qur’an for aesthetic projects. George illuminates some of the ethical and ideological energies that have animated today’s Muslim art publics by looking at the anxiety and outcry in Indonesia’s art world over the use of Qur’anic script in fashion and in painting.

Based on his exploration of the problems that have befallen designer Karl Lagerfeld and Indonesian painter A. D. Pirous, George argues that moments of panic or outrage may offer a special glimpse of ethicopolitical claims about what is (or is not) Islamically significant in the field of visual culture. His essay also provides a new perspective on some of the power relations that shape national and global Muslim art publics. Located at the intersection of the anthropology of art and the anthropology of Islam, George's essay suggests how a custodial ethics for handling Qur’anic Arabic has played into the hands of Muslim religious conservatives as they extend their authority into national and transnational art worlds, and more generally how Qur’anic art has become a space of struggle over the scope of secularism, religion, and culture.

Cultural Anthropology has published other essays on Islam and creative expression. These essays include Anne Meneley's “Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-de-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks” (2007), Katherine Pratt Ewing's "Between Cinema and Social Work: Diasporic Turkish Women and the (Dis)Pleasures of Hybridity" (2006), and Carolyn Rouse & Janet Hoskins' “Purity, Soul Food, and Sunni Islam: Explorations at the Intersection of Consumption and Resistance” (2004).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays on Indonesia. See Leslie Butt's “'Lipstick Girls' and 'Fallen Women': AIDS and Conspiratorial Thinking in Papua, Indonesia” (2005), Celia Lowe's “Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from 'New Form' to 'Endemic Species'”(2004), Tania Murray Li's “Compromising Power: Development, Culture, and Rule in Indonesia”(1999), and Patricia Spyer's “Diversity with a Difference: Adat and the New Order in Aru (Eastern Indonesia)” (1996).

About the Author

Kenneth George is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Relavent Links

Read Nigaah's 2010 interview with George on Islamic art and the multicultural audience.

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