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Gerhardt Marcks Art History Lecture: Dr. Erika Lopez Prater ’03

April 3, 2024


The “Hamline Muhammad Image Controversy” arose when a famous, reverential 14th-century Persian painting of the Prophet Muhammad receiving Qur’anic revelation, from Rashid al-Din’s Compendium of Chronicles, was taught in a global art history course. The display of this canonical image sparked heated international debate, as Hamline University administrators labeled it as ‘Islamophobic’, leading to the non-renewal of the adjunct instructor of the course.  
This controversy can be analyzed as a real-time case study in iconoclasm. Hastily condemned as blasphemous, the image’s meaning evolved, reflecting Foucauldian logic, wherein icons “seem to come alive only with their defacement.” Media coverage avoided displaying the full image, contributing to the obfuscation of the image and story. The controversy escalated further as critics of Hamline’s censorious rhetoric flooded the university’s social media platforms with the image, politicizing the debate.

In this Gerhardt Marcks Lecture, Dr. Erika Lopez Prater, who was at the center of this image debate, examines these fear-based iconoclastic moves to examine how the original painting has accrued dramatically new meanings, including obscene overtones, addresses how today’s mechanisms to break and reproduce images invest them with strange new life, and examines the stakes for art history as the discipline unfolds in real time.

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