Dr. Ruba Kana’an declares that the filed of study of Islamic art and architecture is “very young” and “exciting.” While “well-established museums of Islamic art focus on early Islam, the interest and focus on contemporary Islamic art is very recent,” says the scholar who is currently an assistant professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM).
Dr. Kana’an has taught in Canada and the UK, including a stint at the University of Oxford, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. For six years, she worked at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto where she shepherded a program ensuring Muslim history was included in the high school curriculum. The professor says that growing up in Jordan had a profound impact on her work and life pursuit. “I grew up in a part of the world where you’re surrounded by historical buildings and I [was] always [curious] about who built them and why.”
One of Dr. Kan’an’ favorite classes she teaches at UTM explores artists from the pre-modern Muslim world. “I like people to think of art as a product of living human beings with life experiences. Part of that life experience is their Muslim faith and the cultural contexts of the regions they lived in.” A takeaway she hopes for her students is to “think of Muslim civilizations as similar to any other civilizations that have built within them a huge diversity of expressions [and] ideas, and not to think of Islam as something relegated to the past and [of] Muslims as people who are different or the other.”
She says that art is an opportunity to see “how Muslims dealt with issues and came up with different solutions to express their diversity.”