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2021 II Conference

Presented by the International Institute area studies centers and program: African Studies Center, Center for Armenian Studies, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Center for South Asian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Nam Center for Korean Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, Program in International and Comparative Studies; co-sponsored by the U-M History of Art.

This year’s conference explores the significance of Arts of Devotion by bringing together scholars from across disciplines and temporal and regional contexts, to engage with one another and a broader audience of faculty, students, and the general public. 

History provides us with numerous examples of devotional artifacts and many that remain for study and usage. Many recent and contemporary arts of devotion may be inspired by, derived from, or critiques of traditional examples. Thus traditional or historical arts of devotion, as well as contemporary, will both be explored in this conference.

This conference is funded in part by five (5) Title VI National Resource Center grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Cosponsors: African Studies Center, Center for Armenian Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Nam Center for Korean Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Center for South Asian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Program in International and Comparative Studies, History of Art, University of Michigan Museum of Art

Conference Abstract

The phrase “Arts of Devotion” typically brings to mind traditional ritual objects used as part of religious practices: reliquaries housing fragments of bone or clothing from saints; Bibles, or the more personalized Books of Hours; Tanakhs; Qur’ans; statues of the Buddha; vodou flags; altarpiece paintings of religious scenes and small devotional paintings meant to adorn the home. The phrase also evokes items like costumes, masks, dances, songs, poetry, and literature. Arts of Devotion, however, can tend to be conflated with only those items that are understood as “traditional,” rather than those that emerge from the contemporary moment, as if modern and contemporary art can only be associated with the purely secular world. 

Yet there are numerous contemporary artists who have incorporated elements of the devotional into their works.  Just to name a few, we might think of Saba Taj’s utilization of the figure of al-Buraq, the mythical beast that carried Muhammad on his Night Journey, in her kinetic sculpture of 2017, Interstellar Uber//Negotiations with Go, or Ayrson Heráclito’s exploration of palm oil’s significance within Candomblé ritual practices in his 2007 video installation piece As mãos de epô.  Moreover, as these and other examples make clear, devotional arts have changed with the advent of modern technologies and changing socio-political contexts. This can be seen, for example, in the prevalence of martyr portraits (often digitally edited photographs), both in public and private spaces, in certain regions and communities of the Middle East. Meanwhile, artists and religious practitioners whose practices and/or identities, do not align with mainstream conceptions of religion have also sought to re-imagine devotional objects in innovative ways that make space for their own articulations, such as Nicki Green’s queering of the Jewish ritual bath in her earthenware piece, Mikveh for Mycotheology. And we might consider Arts of Devotion as potentially extending beyond the usual association with the religious to other “devotional” relationships, such as those for political or revolutionary leaders, or individuals’ loved ones.