Sussan Babaie - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Sussan Babaie

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Professor Sussan Babaie

Professor in the Arts of Iran and Islam
Photograph of Sussan Babaie

Sussan Babaie joined The Courtauld Institute of Art in 2013 to take up a newly established post teaching on the arts of Iran and Islam. Born in Iran, Sussan attended the University of Tehran’s Faculty of Fine Arts (Graphic Design) until the revolution of 1979 when she moved to the USA to study for a Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance and American Arts, followed by a PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, where she focused on the arts of Islam. She has many years of experience teaching at Smith College and the University of Michigan in America, and as the Allianz Visiting Professor at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich.  Sussan has served on the International Advisory Board of Art History.

Her exhibitions include the guest-curated Strolling in Isfahan, at the Sackler Museum of Harvard University (2010), and two exhibitions she curated with her undergraduate students at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (installation, 2002-2006), and at Smith College Museum of Art (1998). While she was a graduate student fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she co-curated and co-wrote the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’ (1989). She has consulted on Persian and Islamic arts with the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, and the Detroit Institute of Art.

Her research interests include the early modern Safavid period with topics on urbanism and empire studies, on sexuality and social habits of ‘seeing’, and on transcultural visuality and notions of exoticism. A university-trained graphic designer, she writes and lectures on the historiography of the global contemporary and its implications for the arts of Iran and the Middle East. Most recently, her research has been supported by grants from the United States National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright (for research in Egypt and Syria) and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Sussan is the Head of Admissions at The Courtauld Institute of Art during the academic years 2014-15 and 2015-16.

PhD Supervision


  • Massoumeh Nahid Assemi, ‘The painted tiles at the Tekkiyeh Mu’avin ul-Mulk in Kermanshah (Iran)’
  • Jahanara Saigol, ‘The development of Mughal ornament circa 1550-1635 with a focus on Lahore’
  • Natasha Morris, ‘The Masculine Image in Qajar Iran (1772 – 1925)’

Recently completed

  • Lamia Balafrej, Le maître Kamâl al-Din Behzâd et une copie du Bustân de Sa‘di (Caire, Dâr al-Kutub « Adab Fârisi 22 »). doctorante inscrite à l’Université d’Aix-Marseille. External Examiner (Sept 2013)
  • Aida Foroutan, “The Reception of Surrealism in Iran.” University of Manchester, External Examiner (Feb 2013)
  • Seyed Mohammad Ali Emrani, “The role of gardens and tree-lined streets in the urban development of Safavid Isfahan (1590-1722); A comparative approach (Paris and Versailles in the 17th century).” Lehrstuhl für landschaftsarchitektur und öffentlicher Raum, Institut für Entwerfen Stadt und Landschaft, Technische Universität, Munich, committee member (2012)
  • Afshon Ostovar, “Radical Shi‘ism and the Modern Middle East: Nationalism, Modernity, and the Iranian Revolution.” University of Michigan, Department of History, committee member (2009)
  • Min Yong Cho, “How Land Came into the Picture: Rendering History in Fourteenth-Century Iran.” University of Michigan, Department of the History of Art, supervisor and chair of the committee (2008)
  • Diana Ng, “The Manipulation of Memory in the Public Buildings and Decorative Programs in Roman Asia Minor,” Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, committee member (2007)
  • Amy Landau, “Farangi-Sazi at Isfahan: The Court Painter Muhammad Zaman, The Armenians of New Julfa and Shah Sulayman (1666-1694),” University of Oxford, The Oriental Institute; co-advisor with Dr. Julian Raby (2007)

Forthcoming publications


  • ‘Istanbul, Isfahan, and Delhi: Imperial Designs and Urban Experiences in the Early Modern Era (1450-1650)’ with Çiğdem Kafescioğlu, in A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Finnbar Barry Flood and Gulru Necipoglu (Blackwell, 2015/16).

Recent publications


  • Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis, co-edited with Talinn Grigor (I. B. Tauris, 2015).
  • Shirin Neshat (Detroit Institute of Art, 2013). Co-author with Rebecca Hart and Nancy Princenthal. Exhibition Catalogue, (Detroit Institute of Art (2013).
  • Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008). Winner of the 2009 Middle East Studies Association, Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award.
  • Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran, co-editor and co-author with Kathryn Babayan, Ina Baghdiantz-McCabe, and Massumeh Farhad (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004).
  • Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Marie Lukens Swietochowski (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989). Co-author of the Introduction and sole author of catalogue entries 20-36.
  • Persian edition of Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tarahi-ha-ye Irani dar muoze-ye honar-e Metropolitan, translated by Hossayn Rahmat Samiee, edited by Mohammad Hasan Semsar. (Tehran: Entesharat-e Zariran, 1383/2004-05).

Essays and articles

  • ‘Transcultural trends, personal desires, and collective agendas’ in Traces of the Poet, Artist, and Patron, ed. Amy Landau, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore,  2015).
  • ‘The Global in the Local: Implicating Iran in Art and History’, in Anthony Downey, (ed.) Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (London, I. B. Tauris, 2015) pp. 251-261.
  • ‘Sacred Sites of Kingship: The Maydan and Mapping the Spatial-Spiritual Vision of the Empire in Safavid Iran’ in Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis, co-edited with Talinn Grigor (I. B. Tauris, 2015).
  • ‘Visual Recitations: Neshat’s ‘Persian’ Arts’ in Shirin Neshat (Detroit Institute of Art, 2013). Co-author with Rebecca Hart and Nancy Princenthal. Exhibition Catalogue, (Detroit Institute of Art (2013).
  • ‘Practices of ‘participation” for the on-line exhibition catalogue SubRosa: The Language of Resistance, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, August 30 –December 7, 2013.
  • ‘Persisch-islamische Architektur’, in Handbuch der Iranistik, edited by Ludwig Paul (Hamburg, 2013).
  • ‘Frontiers of visual taboo: painted ‘indecencies’ in Isfahan’. In Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art, edited by Francesca Leoni and Mika Natif, pp. 159-186 (Ashgate, 2013).
  • ‘Delicate displays: on a Safavid ceramic bottle at the Museum of the Cairo University’, in Ferdowsi, The Mongols and Iranian History, edited by Robert Hillenbrand, A. C. S. Peacock, and Firuza Abdullaeva, pp. 375-381 (I. B. Tauris, 2013).
  • ‘Architekt und Architektur im persisch geprägten Asien (15.–17. Jahrhundert)’, in Der Architekt – Geschichte und Gegenwart eines Berufsstands, edited by W. Nerdinger (Architekturmuseums der TU München, Munich, 2012).
  • ‘The Palaces’, Architecture in Islamic Arts. Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum exhibition catalogue, (Geneva, 2012).
  • ‘Qavam al-Din Shirazi’, In The Great Builders, edited by Kenneth Powell, pp. 29-33 (Thames and Hudson, 2011).
  • “Voices of Authority: Locating the ‘modern’ in ‘Islamic’ Arts,” Getty Research Journal 3 (2011).
  • ‘The Safavid Empire of Persia: ‘The Padshah of the Inhabited Quarter of the Globe’, in The Great Empires of Asia, edited by Jim Masselos, pp. 136-165 & 231-235 (The University of California Press, 2010).
  • ‘Thoughts of a Painting; Reza Derakhshani in Retrospective View’, in Reza Derakshani; Selected Works (Geneva: Patrick Cramer Publisher, 2010), pp. 13-19.
  • ‘Painting as Performance’. Introductory essay for the catalogue of an exhibition of work by Reza Derakhshani, Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery, New York, January 2009.
  • ‘Visual Vestiges of Travel: Persian Windows on European Weaknesses’, Journal of Early Modern History 13 (2009), pp. 1-32.
  • ‘Launching from Isfahan: Slaves and the Construction of the Empire’. In Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran, edited by S. Babaie, K. Babayan, I. Baghdiantz-McCabe, and M. Farhad, pp. 80-113. (I.B. Tauris, 2004).
  • ‘In the Eye of the Storm: Visualizing the Qajar Axis of Kingship’. In L. Komaroff, ed., Pearls from Water, Rubies from Stone: Studies in Islamic Art in Honor of Priscilla Soucek, pp. 35-54. Artibus Asiae (special volume) LXVI, No. 2: 2006.
  • ‘Building on the Past: The Shaping of Safavid Architecture, 1501-76’. In J. Thompson and S. Canby, eds., Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Iran, 1501-76, pp. 26-47. (London and New York: The British Museum and The Asia Society, 2003).
  • ‘The Sound of the Image/The Image of the Sound: Narrativity in Persian Art of the 17th Century’. In O. Grabar and C. Robinson, eds., Islamic Art and Literature, pp. 143-162. Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (special volume): 2001.
  • ‘The Persian Text’ (translation and emendation of the Persian inscriptions in the Morgan Crusader Bible). In D. H. Weiss, ed., The Morgan Crusader Bible, pp. 77-102. Faksimile Verlag Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland and Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1999.
  • ‘Masjid-i Shah” [Royal Mosque]’. Da’irat al-ma’arif-i buzurg-i Islami [The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia] 9: 1999, pp. 198-201 [in Persian].
  • ‘Epigraphy iv. Safavid and Later Inscriptions’, Encyclopaedia Iranica 8: 1998, pp. 498-504.
  • ‘Paradise Contained; Nature and Culture in Persian Gardens’. The Studio Potter 25, no. 2, June 1997, pp. 10-13.
  • ‘Shah Abbas II, the Conquest of Qandahar, the Chihil Sutun, and its Wall Paintings’. Muqarnas 11 (1994), pp. 125-142.

Recent/major grants

  • 2012-13: National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for book project ‘Architectural Cosmopolitanism in the Middle East: Houses of 17th-Century Aleppo and Isfahan’
  • 2011, Spring: Tom and Patricia Kennedy Residential Fellowship, School of Art and Art History, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
  • 2009-10: Fulbright Regional Researcher-Scholar Grant, for Egypt and Syria
  • 2009: Winner, Middle East Studies Association, Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies
  • Book Award for Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008)
  • 2008-09: Invited Visiting Scholar, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Other current/ongoing professional activities

  • Member of the Advisory Board of Muqarnas
  • Member of the Editorial and Advisory Boards of the online Journal of Islamic Material Culture (Oxford University)
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Iranian Studies.
  • President-Elect (2014-2016) and President (2017-19) of the Historians of Islamic Art Association
  • Member of the Governing Council of the British Academy’s British Institute of Persian Studies.

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