In the context of the Safavid dynasty’s capital city of Isfahan, Sussan Babaie examines the intersection of visual and gustatory experience as a self-aware obsession with ‘taste’.  The University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, The Power Institute and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas, are proud to present the first of the Sydney Asian Art Series talks for 2019, with a lecture by Susan Babaie, Andrew W. Mellon Reader in the Arts of Iran and Islam at the Courtauld Institute.



Taste is often understood in mystical terms. The taste of sweetness can be a metaphor for the sweetness experienced from a union with the divine. Rarely is the concept of taste (zauq in Arabic and Persian) extended into analytical thinking about the arts and material culture, and much less about taste at the intersection of visual and gustatory experience. Focusing on the city of Isfahan in what is now Iran during the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), this talk explores a condition of taste-making that is anchored on the experiences of space and urban life. Babaie calls this culinarity. Seen through the evidence of painting and cookery, treatises on art and on cuisine, their associated activities and accoutrements—dishes and dishes—and buildings designed for eating in, culinarity represents, Babaie argues, a self-aware obsession with taste, both visual and gustatory. This approach to seeing and tasting suggests an early modern sense of urbanity in the way it implicates food, eating, and related sensorial experiences to constitute elements of sociable behaviour.



Susan Babaie is Reader in the history of Iranian and Islamic art and architecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. She is the author of Isfahan and Its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (2008, paperback 2018), and co-author and editor of several books including The Mercantile Effect: On Art and Exchange in the Islamicate World During the 17th and 18th Centuries (2017), Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis (2014), Shirin Neshat (2013), and Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran (2004, paperback 2017). She is working on a book about the intersections between visual and gustatory taste in early modern Iran.



6-7:30pm, Thursday 28 March 2019

Law School Foyer

University of Sydney Law School

Camperdown NSW 2006

Register here.



Presented by

The Sydney Asian Art Series is presented by the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, The Power Institute, and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas.



Image: Isfahan, Chehel Sotun (Forty Pillar) Palace, detail of the mural in the audience hall, Feasting reception hosted by Shah Abbas the Great, mid-17th century. Photo© Babaie.