Reviewed April 2021
Gilda Santana
Head Architecture Research Center, Art & Art History Librarian
University of Miami
gsantana@miami.edu 

Shatha Baydoun
History, Modern Languages & Literatures, Islamic History and Studies Librarian
University of Miami
sbaydoun@miami.edu

Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online is envisioned as an interactive multimedia platform covering the expansive area of Islamic art and architecture. Launched in 2020, the site was created with the intent of engaging “students and interested audiences in a more global, polyphonous, and interdisciplinary view of Islam, art, and history.” This interdisciplinarity is one of the website’s most powerful attributes.

Khamseen is the transliteration of the Arabic word fifty, which also denotes “sand winds” blowing from the Sahara into Egypt in early springtime. The name is also a reference to Mahmoud Mukhtar’s famous Egyptian sculpture. In the short video “Mahmoud Mukhtar’s Khamasin: Sculpture in Modern Egypt,” Alex Dika Seggerman contextualizes the sculpture’s significance in Egyptian society and within the Nahda Arabic cultural movement of the early twentieth century. Contemporary topics in presentations such as “George Floyd in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan: Visual Commentaries in Islamic Lands”, and “A Hot Wind Blows: Ecocritical Art in the Middle East” reflect a conscious effort to broaden Islamic art temporally and spatially. The website also highlights hemispheric connections with presentations like “Monumental Mosques in Latin America.”

Screenshot of short videos landing page on Khamseen

Khamseen is an open access site with a Creative Commons License, which allows instructors to share resources without fear of violating copyright laws. “Teaching Resources for Islamic Art” highlights digital materials from libraries, museums, and archives—an invaluable pedagogical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the website content falls under “Short-Form Presentations,” with videos ranging from five to fifteen minutes. Each includes a topic synopsis, some of which further present cross-cultural narratives like “The Depiction of European Women in Late Safavid Paintings.” Updated regularly, the presentations are accompanied by social media tags from Twitter on the right side. Another Web 2.0 feature is “Khamseen Tags” which aids discovery; however, this feature is missing in some presentations. The importance of brief scholar biographies and bibliographic references, which link to monographs, journal articles, and WorldCat records, cannot be overstated. In “Craft and Aesthetics in Byzantine and Early Islamic Textiles,” the video is augmented with links to museum objects, which is a constructive practice we would urge other presenters to follow. Because of these rich components, the creators succeeded in bringing “new voices, perspectives, and materials” into the classroom for users ranging from high school students to graduate researchers.

Notwithstanding the rich and nuanced content, Khamseen presents the user with navigational challenges. The website design is not intuitive and is circuitous in places. Beyond the Twitter and “Khamseen Tags,” we could not find additional instances of interactivity. The user must have previous knowledge of the subject matter in terms of genre and period, so a more robust system of cataloging and metadata could significantly enhance the site. The search box’s inconvenient location at the bottom of the landing page also impedes discoverability.

Screenshot of the resources section on Khamseen

The tab for “Resources” in the main navigational bar is another area that could be improved. The drop-down menu presents one link to “K6-12 Teaching Resources,” which then links to a flyer advertising “Islam to Art.” Clicking on “Resources” also leads to a collection of teaching documents along with a link to the “Short-Form Presentations” and a “Living Survey.” The latter would work better as a main tab since it contains a chronological listing of Islamic periods with links to available “Presentations.” The development of such interconnectedness may aid in contextualizing these resources within the broader context of Islamic art. While some presentations do engage with areas outside the traditional realm of Islam and the Middle East, including contemporary issues, the site would benefit from even broader inclusion of contemporary topics on gender or LGBTQI+ issues, as well as artistic productions in the Americas and Southeast Asia.

We recommend Khamseen for its appreciable wealth of meaningful resources, inclusivity, and interdisciplinarity—attributes that promise the continuing evolution of content and visibility. Compared to other websites focused on Islamic art, like that of the Aga Khan Museum, Khamseen excels in creating a rich multimedia platform that greatly contributes to the field of Islamic art and architecture.

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