Sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of the Arts, VCUQatar, and the Qatar Foundation and organized by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, shared holders of the Hamad bin Khalifa Endowed Chair in Islamic Art at VCU, the symposia seek to explore broad issues in the visual arts of the Islamic world. In 1997 Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned invited the VCU School of the Arts to establish a campus in Qatar’s Education City. In recognition of VCU’s role as the founding campus of Education City, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, subsequently endowed the Hamad bin Khalifa Chair in Islamic Art within VCU’s department of Art History. In doing so, he stipulated that the holders of the chair create a biennial international symposium on Islamic art, alternating between Qatar and other countries.

The first symposium, entitled Expanded Frontiers, was held in Richmond, Virginia in 2004, where eight scholars addressed a range of topics from the history of Islamic art to its relationships with the arts of Christian Europe. The second symposium, Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture, was held in Doha, Qatar in 2007 where twelve speakers approached the many meanings and roles of water in Islamic art and society from religious, literary, archeological, architectural, and functional perspectives. The third symposium, And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture, was held in Córdoba, Spain in 2009, and included original presentations by thirteen speakers on the role of color in Islamic art and culture. God Is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, the fourth symposium, was held at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar in 2011, where twelve speakers presented papers on objects in the museum’s collection, covering the principal media, periods, and regions of Islamic art from its origins to the present. In 2013, “God Is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture” was held in Palermo, Italy. Since 2009, the proceedings of each symposium have been edited by Drs. Blair and Bloom and published by Yale University Press.
The Hamad bin Khalifa Symposia on Islamic Art address significant themes and issues in understanding the visual arts of the Islamic lands. In line with the Emir’s desire to make Qatar a leader of university education in the Gulf and the Arab world, these symposia seek to make the latest and most interesting scholarship in this growing field of Islamic art available and accessible to a wide audience, ranging from students and scholars to artists, architects, designers and the interested public.