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Keywords:

  • ethics;
  • art;
  • fashion;
  • censorship;
  • visual culture;
  • material culture;
  • Qur’an;
  • Islam;
  • Indonesia;
  • Arabic

ABSTRACT

What predicaments and crises are posed, whose interests are served, and what discourses are advanced when artists use the Qur’an for aesthetic projects? This essay throws light on some of the ethical and ideological energies that have animated today's Muslim art publics by looking at the anxiety and outcry in Indonesia's art world over the use of Qur’anic script in fashion and in painting. I argue that moments of panic or outrage may afford us a special glimpse of ethicopolitical claims as to what is or is not Islamically significant in the field of visual culture, and simultaneously reveal some of the power relations that shape national and global Muslim art publics. By looking at problems that have befallen designer Karl Lagerfeld and Indonesian painter A. D. Pirous, I suggest how a custodial ethics for handling Qur’anic Arabic has played into the hands of Muslim religious conservatives as they extend their authority into national and transnational art worlds, and more generally how Qur’anic art has become a space of struggle over the scope of secularism, religion, and culture. In doing so, I show ways in which the anthropology of art and the anthropology of Islam might fruitfully converge.