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Philip Geisler


(Gerda Henkel Doctoral Fellow)

Dis-Playing Islam in the Early Twenty-First Century: Objects, Performance, and Space in the Museum

Philip Geisler obtained a degree in Journalism and Media Economics at the Medienakademie Berlin before studying Art History, Islamic Studies, and Political Science at the Freie Universität Berlin and at Harvard University. His dissertation explores how performance shifts the space, time, narrative, and practice of museum displays of Islamic art in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Philip has published on early modern Ottoman architecture and urban configurations, Islamic crafts, the connections of architecture, colonial visual culture, and dance heritage, and on contemporary architectural branding and place making in the UAE. From 2013 to 2019, he worked at the Forum Transregionale Studien as a member of the research program Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices. He is a recipient of the Ottoman & Turkish Studies Association’s Sydney N. Fisher Prize, the Krupp Foundation Fellowship, and is a former fellow of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes. In 2022, he was a fellow at the 4A_Laboratory: Art Histories, Archaeologies, Anthropologies, Aesthetics, a joint program of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, where he pursued research on the transregional heritage, preservation, and consumer culture of Islamic crafts and prepared two exhibitions, a show on the ecology, art history, and sonic aesthetics of the reed flute (nay) (2024) as well as the sonic display and music programming of the exhibition Rhythm and Color: Music Scenes on Indian Album Paintings from the 16th to 18th Centuries at Berlin’s Museum of Islamic Art (2023). In 2023, he was a Visiting Researcher at the Department of Art & Art History and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University. 

As a music dramaturg, he co-founded and co-directs the trans-traditional Trickster Orchestra, which won the German Jazz Award as Best Large Ensemble, the TONALi Award for Contemporary Music and the German Composer’s Award. A recent program, titled “rain… rain… rain… – A Requiem,” used improvised music, film, as well as Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s and Sinan Antoon’s poetry to reflect upon the Iraq invasion in 2003 and premiered at Silent Green in Berlin in autumn 2023. Philip has previously worked for the Berlin Philharmonic as well as for jazz ensembles within the cosmos of the ECM record label. In 2020, he became an international nominator of the Aga Khan Music Awards. In his ongoing journalistic activities, he publishes in the TRAFO Blog for Transregional Research, the VAN music magazine, and hosts discussions on art, literature, and music.


Academic Memberships

Historians of Islamic Art Association
Middle East Studies Association
Verband Deutscher Kunsthistoriker

Dissertation: Dis-Playing Islamic Art in the Early Twenty-First Century: Objects, Performance, and Space in the Museum

The question of how performance shifts the space, narrative, and practice of Islamic art display in museums is at the heart of this dissertation. Since the early 2000s, many Islamic art museums and individual galleries have reorganized their displays, extended their programs, or have been newly constructed. While narratives and historiographical approaches have changed, a model of museum practice remains, which is based on displaying collections and using objects as metonyms for culture. Yet this model poses challenging questions to museums and their ability to communicate knowledge. Especially for the case of Islamic art displayed outside of regions of Islamic hegemony, the farther a culture is from the experience of viewers, the less effective is the metonym that museums attempt to convey. 

In the same period in which Islamic art museums have reorganized their galleries, a second shift has taken place. Since 2001, and particularly after 2014, displays of immaterial cultural heritage and performing arts have proliferated as an increasingly essential part of how museums exhibit Islamic art and culture. This development was officially taken up by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which in 2022 approved a new museum definition framing this institution as one that “researches, collects, conserves, interprets, and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage.” What happens when one rethinks the museum through the framework of performance – orchestrating time in addition to space, sense in addition to matter? This project (established after a topic change in November 2022) assesses this fundamental shift in museum-making by exploring how museums, both public and private and both dedicated and encyclopedic institutions with galleries of Islamic art, engage with performance as one way to bridge the gap between displayed culture and viewer experience. This thesis maintains that the integration of performance in museums suggests a new awareness of a lack in the existing paradigms of the museum and explains historical and more recent reasons for why this shift toward performance has been more of a concern with Islamic art than other fields of art history. 

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Wendy M. K. Shaw

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Birgit Krawietz


Conference Papers

"Sinan’s Iconic Practices: Staging Early Modern Ottoman Architecture and Power" (panel Branding the Middle East: A Book Project) The Middle East in Myth and Reality, 12th Nordic Society for Middle Eastern Studies Conference, Reykjavik, September 2022

"From Representation to Presence: Heritage, Performing Arts, and the Polyphonic Islamic Art Museum" (section Material Culture, Art History, and Archaeology) 34th German Oriental Studies Conference, Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft and Freie Universität, Berlin, September 2022

"Architecture, Immaculate Form, and the Aesthetics of Branding in Dubai" (panel Branding Products, Persons, and Places in, from, and through the Middle East and North Africa) 34th German Oriental Studies Conference, Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft and Freie Universität, Berlin, September 2022

"Art, Islam, and the Politics of Museum Display at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum and Granada’s Museo de la Alhambra"
4A_Laboratory, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut, Berlin, June 2022

"Displaying Islamic Art in the Early 21st Century: Global Art Historiography, Archaeology, and the Politics of Belonging" (section Islamic Art: The Narrative of Museums)
The Power of Museums, International Museum Day Conference, International Council of Museums (ICOM-UK), May 2022

"Configuring Multiculturalism: Heritage and Narrative at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum and Granada’s Museo de la Alhambra"
Global Displays of Islamic Art Today: Agency, Identity, and Politics, Islamic Art and Material Culture Collaborative (IAMCC), Toronto, February 2022

“Islamic Art as a Multicultural Mythology in Spain and Canada” (panel Islamic Art and the Politics of Museum Display, organized by Philip Geisler and Constance Jame, sponsored by the Historians of Islamic Art Association)
Annual Meeting, Middle East Studies Association, Montreal, November 2021

"Display and Performativity: Theorizing the Agency of Islamic Art in the Museum“ 
Le musée en scène: regards critiques sur la muséographie 1969-2019, International Conference, Musée du Louvre & Ecole du Louvre, Paris, June 2021

“The Performativity of Objects: Reconstituting the Islamic Art Museum” (panel Archaeology and Museology)
Annual Meeting, Middle East Studies Association, New Orleans, November 2019

“Constructing the Ottoman Image: The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne and the History of Branded Architecture” (panel Branding the Middle East)
33rd German Oriental Studies Conference, Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft and Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, September 2017

“Architecture and Identity: Incorporating Hagia Sophia in the Ottoman Selimiye Mosque” (section Heritage and Imperial Architecture)
Captivating Edirne: Resources, Connectivities and Imaginative Attraction of a Turkish Border-City in Europe, International Workshop, Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies and Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, April 2014


Philip Geisler, “Islamic Heritage at the Aga Khan Museum Shop: Transcultural Crafts and Contemporary Art as Conspicuous Cosmopolitanism,” in: Routledge Handbook of Global Islam and Consumer Culture, edited by Birgit Krawietz and François Gauthier, London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2024, pp. 356–373. https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Handbook-of-Global-Islam-and-Consumer-Culture/Krawietz-Gauthier/p/book/9780367715830#

Philip Geisler, "Sinan's Iconic Practices: Staging Early Modern Ottoman Architecture and Power", in: Branding the Middle East: Communication Strategies and Image Building from Qom to Casablanca, edited by Steffen Wippel, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2023, pp. 303–322. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110741100/html?lang=de

Philip Geisler, "Architecture and the Myth of Immaculate Form in Dubai", in: Branding the Middle East: Communication Strategies and Image Building from Qom to Casablanca, edited by Steffen Wippel, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2023, pp. 623–635. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110741100/html?lang=de 

Philip Geisler, “Cambodian Court Dance After Genocide: Embodied Heritage and the Limits of Critique”, Essays of the Forum Transregionale Studien 6, 2020, pp. 4-61. https://perspectivia.net/rsc/viewer/pnet_derivate_00003937/6_Geisler_trafoEssay.pdf

Philip Geisler, “Challenging the Hagia Sophia: The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne as Ottoman Empire Branding”, in: The Heritage of Edirne in Ottoman and Turkish Times. Continuities, Disruptions and Reconnections, edited by Birgit Krawietz and Florian Riedler, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020, pp. 91–151. https://www.degruyter.com/view/title/547362?language=en


Non-Academic (selection)

Philip Geisler, “'A Forgotten Complexity': Arshia Samsaminia and Nikolaus Schlierf on Microtonal Archaeology.”, VAN Magazin, 2022. https://www.van-outernational.com/samsaminia-schlierf/

Philip Geisler, “Nebeneinander, seitlich, unendlich: Wendy M. K. Shaw über ‘Islamische’ Kunst und Musik ohne Hierarchie”, VAN Magazin, 2020. https://www.van-outernational.com/shaw

Philip Geisler, “Dynamische Traditionen und Mimesis in der Kunstmusik”, Trickster Magazine, 2020. https://tricksterorchestra.de/magazine/essay/mimesis-und-kunstmusik/

Philip Geisler, “What is Art History when the Primary Sensory Organ is the Heart? A Conversation with Wendy M. K. Shaw”, TRAFO Blog for Transregional Research, 2020. https://trafo.hypotheses.org/22802

Philip Geisler, “Halting in a Space of Total Movement: Politics and Spatial Orders at Tegel Airport”, TRAFO Blog for Transregional Research, 2014. https://trafo.hypotheses.org/1214

Philip Geisler, “Ausstellung Welten der Muslime: Das Ende einer Trennung”, zenith, 2012. https://magazin.zenith.me/de/archiv/ausstellung-welten-der-muslime

Philip Geisler, “Osmanische Oldies: Werke von Dimitrie Cantemir in der Philharmonie”, zenith, 2011.