Tag Archives: AHRC

Material Witness Programme – Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction

I was accepted on to the Material Witness Programme back in November 2013. The programme is AHRC funded and organised by Alixe Bovey from University of Kent. However, participants, of which there are approximately 60, come from the CHASE consortium providing a wide range of research knowledge in one network. The purpose of the programme is to provide training for PhD students through a series of workshops, lectures and site-based or industry specific trips where materials can be ‘witnessed’. In other words, looking at objects and artefacts from a variety of interrogative perspectives to understand these in new ways.

The workshops were based at a variety of locations throughout the year, including the Courtauld Institute and The British Library. The latter provided a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ look at various processes involved with conservation and digitisation of manuscripts and rare books. I found it fascinating and felt my excitement was comparable to the odd school trips we enjoyed when in school.


The great thing about bringing people together from different backgrounds but with similar goals in research is the combined network of knowledge. I loved hearing about the variety of subjects being researched, all fascinating in their own ways and the expertise that was brought in was a privilege to be a part of.

Later in the programme I was asked to participate in the event The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction. This event was based on the essay by Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The event featured speakers such as Andrew Prescott (King’s College), Neil Cox & Dana MacFarlane (Edinburgh), and Michael Takeo Magruder(King’s College). Also speaking were fellow programme participants Sarah J. Biggs (Courtauld), Elinor Carmi (Goldsmiths), Alexandra Reghina Draghici (Goldsmiths) and finally artist Mark Leckey. (Full details of the event can be seen here: http://materialwitness.me/2014/05/21/the-work-of-art-in-the-age-of-digital-reproduction-31-may-2014/).

I was honoured to be asked by the programme convenor to speak  in light of the topic of the age of digital reproduction from the perspective of my own research. It was quite relevant to mention that Islamic art is faced with it’s own age of contemporary reproduction if we consider that any art post-Ottoman era is considered differently to that produced prior to it, simply because there is no longer an ‘Islamic Empire’ as such, and the period since (approx. 1923) has seen much change in production processes. Islamic art has also been predominantly traditional arts and crafts based, therefore, adding the use of digital technologies to contemporary developments is likely to produce some very interesting results.

In my presentation I provided a little background to traditional Islamic art by way of examples as seen below:

Fountain In Rabat, Morocco. Photography by David Wade

Fountain In Rabat, Morocco. Photography by David Wade

Mosque of Sultan Qaitbay

Mosque of Sultan Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt, 1474. Photography by David Wade

Flower-style wooden box

Flower-style wooden box with drawers
17th century, India. Wood (poplar); overlaid with ebony inlaid with wood and incised, stained ivory. Image provided by http://www.metmuseum.org/

Using examples of Arabic calligraphy, architectural features and geometric patterns I was able to show how traditional Islamic aesthetics have been re-produced using modern day digital technologies including 3D printers and computer programming.
Examples included those I have mentioned on my blog previously:

A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

Projection from a live performance of A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

A digital unfolding of the day can be found on Storify:  https://storify.com/alixebovey/work-of-art-in-the-age-of-digital-reproduction

You can read more about the AHRC funded Material Witness programme here: http://www.kent.ac.uk/humanities/material-witness/