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Visiting Art Historian Talk: Lamia Balafrej

April 17 @ 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm MDT

Please join us to hear from art historian Lamia Balafrej on Wednesday, April 17th, at 4:30 PM in the ART Building, Room 158. Reception to follow the lecture.

Medieval Siri. Replicating Histories of Gender, Automation, and Representation.

Feminized robots constitute a long-standing tradition, stretching from ancient literature to digital media. Examples span the ancient Greek god Hephaestus’ golden maidens in Homer’s Iliad up to today’s AI technologies like Apple’s Siri. At the core of this tradition is a lesser studied but just as relevant corpus of medieval automata or self-moving machines, particularly salient in Arabic sources. These automata featured female servants and slaves, often as liquid-serving devices and as timekeepers. With a special emphasis on medieval examples, this lecture will delve into the replicating histories of the motif of the feminized robot. It will examine how gender, slavery, automation, and representation intersected in various historical contexts, anticipating the algorithmic assistant and testifying to the centrality of feminized service work to the imaginary of automation.

Lamia Balafrej is Associate Professor of the Arts of the Islamic World at UCLA. Her current book project explores the historical intersections of technology, slavery, and visibility, with a focus on the Mediterranean and South West Asia. Slices of this research have appeared in recent articles on gender, slavery, and technology (2023), automated slaves and nonefficient machines (2022), and images of domestic slavery and skin color (2021). This project has been supported by a 2023 Rome Prize in Medieval Studies and a 2023 Getty Scholar Grant. Her current interest in the relation of body and instrument grew out of her first book, The Making of the Artist in Late Timurid Painting (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), in which she examined the painstaking labor of visual intricacy, in light of Persianate notions of authorship, medium, and representation.

The artist talk and visit are made possible through the generous support of the Carmen Morton Christensen Endowment, the Department of Art & Art History, and the College of Fine Arts. Reception is made possible by the Middle East Center.

Parking information can be found by visiting the Gittins Gallery page.


April 17
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm MDT
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Department of Art & Art History


ART Building, Room 158
375 South 1530 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
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