In a rare artistic ensemble, a group of students from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) recreated a masterpiece of the era of European Renaissance-‘Raphael’s School of Athens.’ The group gathered 61 students and the Faculty of the Architecture department including founder of AUS Prof Martin Giesen and Dean Varkki. They dressed up in the costumes of the era and posed for photographs outside the main building of the university. “Well, it started out as a pleasurable pastime, but eventually it evolved into a more meaningful endeavor,” said Divya Mahadevan, a member of the ensemble.
The overarching themes of their recreations are to reconsider the rather limited representation, per today’s context, in celebrated work from the past and to spark conversation about the accepted conventions of portrayed figures. One of the team members Tasnim Tinawi stitched and refined the taken photographs into an artwork. “Our work pays homage to the great maestros by re-imagining their artwork and re-positioning them in this place, day and age,” Divya, an Indian expat from Kuwait, pointed out.
To the students, the reenactments of these paintings explore multiple themes with a primary focus on the re-gendering of a traditionally all-male ensemble. As architecture students with a keen interest in art history, the girls began analyzing and re-interpreting the art they admired. The figures in the painting have also been re-represented in terms of regional and religious diversity. “To make it more culturally specific, we re-costumed the figures using traditional attire such as sarees and shaylas,” Divya pointed out.
The Renaissance was a period in European history that marked the transition between the Middle Ages and what is now referred to as the Modern era. The movement began in Florence and signified the rebirth of art, architecture, politics, science and literature. During this period, there was a focus on an invented humanism that adopted the Greek concept “Man is the measure of all things”.
Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such individuals as Masaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
“We also have re-contextualized the painting by using familiar settings on the AUS campus that feature similar compositional elements. In terms of the objects depicted in the paintings, we replaced them with tools that are essential to our architectural education,” she added. As much as the reenactments were about generating significant images, the students realized that the process itself created a sense of community that was more meaningful than the final result. “This, for us, redefined what we considered most important about the effort and its relevance to our experiences as students of this college,” she said.
The group used a small space in the department building to reveal the final image. “We called this event ‘Redressing the Renaissance’ and showcased the original Raphael’s painting side by side with our image. We also wanted to show our evolution and how this idea occurred to us so we showed some of our earlier, more amateur, work that we did in the past years,” she added.
By Sajeev K Peter