In Memoriam: Oleg Grabar (1929-2011) – The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Prof Oleg Grabar, one of the most prominent Islamic art historians and scholars of our time passed away in Princeton on 8th January 2011 at the age of 81. His spirit of critical inquiry and tireless efforts in challenging pre-conceived perspectives in Western thought about art and architecture in the Muslim world will be much missed by many at the Institute and beyond.

Over the course of six decades, his innovative and prolific output and teaching have touched the lives of many, besides being the motive force behind a surge in the number of historians specialising in Islamic art, particularly in the United States. Prof. Azim Nanji, former director of the IIS and currently Senior Associate Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University, reiterates this: “In addition to his writings, many of which are classics in the field, his most lasting legacy was the training and development of a generation of scholars. Each of them, as archaeologists, architects, museum directors and creators of new academic programmes in Muslim Arts, built on his teaching and scholarship to make the field what it is today.”

Throughout his lifetime, he was part of myriad archaeological expeditions and research trips, across the Islamic world in Africa, the Middle East and Muslim Asia, continually documenting and devising new methods to illuminate aspects of art, history and culture of Muslim peoples. According to Prof. Nanji it is because of Grabar that, “the Arts and Architecture of the Muslim World are now part of the larger study of human civilisations and a lens that allows us to see Muslim cultures beyond a narrowly defined, theological and textually-centred field of study.”

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