From interior design to fine arts, the students who make up the Mu’taz and Rada Sawwaf M.A. in Islamic Art and Architecture (IAA) program all come from diverse academic backgrounds. Yet these eight students, who have led the new program to exceed enrollment forecasts, are united by a common curiosity and enthusiasm for the field.
“Islamic art is such a passionate field, where you can learn about the visual art produced from the seventh century onward. Wrongly perceived as only religious art, this program covers much more, stretching from Islamic Spain through the Arab countries, as well as Turkey, Iran and Central Asia in diverse historical periods,” explains Liane Mathes, a native of Luxembourg who enrolled in the IAA program in spring 2016. She holds a fine arts degree from LAU and a master’s in finance from Webster University in Geneva.
“It is one of the few well-formulated programs in Lebanon and the material we are learning from is rich and stimulating, so students really benefit,” says Ghia Eido, who joined the program in fall 2015 after obtaining a B.A. in interior design from LAU.
The program’s students also share a hope of incorporating elements of Islamic art and architecture into their careers.
“As an artist, I want to learn about Islamic painting and to understand its historic visual culture, with the hope of adopting figurative representations in Islamic art to remind my culture of its creative origins,” shares Lana Charara, who began the program in fall 2015 after obtaining her B.A. in fine arts from LAU.
Mathes is an established artist who uses calligraphy-embellished Damascus paper to create pieces that evoke Oriental accents and modernity. However, she believes her IAA studies will take her work further.
“I already have a passion for color, symmetry and creativity, rooted in captivating geometric forms and precise curves, but this master’s will surely bring a new dimension to my work and help me move to another level of excellence,” she says.
Associate Professor Abdallah Kahil, who coordinates the program, is pleased that students are drawing on coursework for creative inspiration. However, he is making sure they are prepared to pursue further learning.
“A big part of the program involves working with students to develop their research and writing skills so they can continue on to doctorate studies at the best international universities,” explains Kahil, who is also the director of the university’s Institute of Islamic Art and Architecture.
Shady Jaber, an IAA graduate student since fall 2015, is one of several students who foresee a Ph.D. ahead. “Whether theoretically through a doctoral dissertation or practically through design, I will have the opportunity to implement what I learn through this program to benefit myself and, more importantly, benefit others,” says Jaber, an LAU alumnus with a B.S. in graphic design and B.A. in interior architecture.
The program was launched in spring 2015 thanks to Mu’taz and Rada Sawwaf, who made a generous contribution with the aim of expanding students’ awareness of the region’s history, culture and artistic heritage.
Most IAA graduate students receive financial support to cover a portion of their tuition in the form of graduate assistantships. In addition, LAU is currently receiving donations toward the Islamic Art and Architecture Endowment Fund to further support students’ tuition fees in the future.