Azra Akšamija is a Sarajevo-born artist and architectural historian. She is Class of 1922 Career Development Professor, Department of Architecture, and an Assistant Professor in the Art, Culture and Technology Program. Akšamija graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University Graz, Austria in 2001, and received her M.Arch. from Princeton University, USA in 2004, and Ph.D. from MIT (HTC / AKPIA) in 2011. In her multi-disciplinary practice, she investigates the potency of art and architecture to facilitate the process of transformative mediation in cultural or political conflicts, and in so doing, provide a framework for researching, analyzing, and intervening in contested socio-political realities. Her recent work focuses on representation of Islam in the West, spatial mediation of identity politics, and cultural transfers through art and architecture.
Her latest projects include The Mashrabiya, an installation of calligraphic textile panels that conceptually connects window lattice designs from Islamic architecture with Austrian chemical embroidery; The Museum Solidarity Lobby, a sound sculpture questioning the role of the national museum in a post-national context; and The Future Heritage Collection, a video installation with a collection of stories exploring heritage dynamics.
Akšamija’s academic research highlights the significance of ethnic symbols, long-term cultural factors, and global cultural flows in the creation of contemporary nations. In her Ph.D. dissertation, Akšamija examined how Bosnian Muslims construct their identity through the lens of rebuilt or newly built mosques following the systematic destruction of religious architecture during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. Her academic inquiry informs her ongoing artistic explorations about Islam in the West and the conflicts over visibility of Muslims in the United States and Europe. Akšamija’s artistic work takes form through different types of media, including clothing and wearable technologies, video, performance, sculpture, curatorial and networked productions. Among her preceding curatorial projects was the Lost Highway Expedition (2006) that Akšamija co-organized with nine international artists and architects during her tenure as a Graduate Affiliate at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, as well as the Interior View South-east that she curated at the Architecture Forum Upper-Austria and the Vorarlberg Architecture Institute in Austria.
Her work has been widely published and exhibited in leading international venues and was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013. Earlier awards include the International Piranesi Award in 2012, named after the 18th century Italian artist and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the nominations for the DETAIL Prize 2012 and the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe Award, and the Honorable Mention at the Sixth Graz Biennial on Media and Architecture in 2003.
In 2013, a retrospective of projects from her first eight years on the MIT faculty entitled Solidarity Works: Politics of Cultural Memory, was displayed at at MIT’s Wolk Gallery, and she also exhibited Museum Solidarity Lobby at the Dallas Holocaust Museum during the MAP Festival. Her work was included at 11 international group exhibitions at prominent institutions including the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, the Center for Contemporary Art in Graz, the Jewish Museum in Munich, the Queens Museum of Art in New York, ifa Gallery in Stuttgart and Berlin, the Museum for Contemporary Art in Ljubljana, and the M:AI Museum for Architecture and Engineering in Gelsenkirchen.
Prominent institutions and festivals that have exhibited her work in the past include the Generali Foundation Vienna, the Valencia Biennial, the Gallery for Contemporary Art Leipzig, the Liverpool Biennial, the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, the Sculpture Center New York, the Vienna Secession, Manifesta 7, the Stroom of The Hague, the Royal Academy of Arts London, the Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini (as a part of the 54th Art Biennale) in Venice.
“Nomadic Mosque.” Volume. no.14. (2006): 124-126.
“Generic Mosque.” Critical Design 24 , (2007)
“Mosques.” In: OMaGiu. No.4., edited by Mihnea Mircan and Ciprian Tudor, 82-87. Bucharest: Daniel Adam, 2006.
“Nomadic Mosque.” Lovely Daze. New York City, NY. Editor and publisher Charwei Tsai. (2006):10-11.
“Dirndlmoschee” Bob 02: Eskapaden. Graz and Vienna: Club Bellevue, (2005):73.
“Nomadic Mosque: Wearable Prayer Space for Contemporary Islamic Practice in the West.” Thresholds 32. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (2005):17-21.
“The Bosnian Chronicle.” In: On the Political Power of Cultural Territories, edited by Gallerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig in cooperation with Kulturstiftung des Bundes, 364-391. Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, 2003/2004
Research Fellowships and Project Grants
Research Award provided by the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) for book project – Spring 2013
ACT Pilot Grant from the MIT Program in Art, Culture, Technology – Spring 2013
Director’s Grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT (project grant) – Spring 2012
Grant by The Council for the Arts at MIT (project grant) – 2011-2013
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Tufts University Center for the Humanities (declined) – 2009-2010
Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (one year fellowship) – Summer 2009
Kress Travel Fellowships in the History of Art, awarded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation – 2008/2009
Krupp Foundation Fellowship, awarded by the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University (one year fellowship) – 2007/2008
MIT / Barakat Foundation Grant (project grant) – Fall 2007
Hyzen Fellowship, MIT (one semester fellowship) – Summer 2007
Grant by The Council for the Arts at MIT (project grant) – Summer 2006
Grant by The Council for the Arts at MIT (project grant) – Spring 2005
Travel Grant 2005-2006, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture MIT – 2004-2007
Aga Khan Fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (4 years) – Fall 2002
Grant by The Office of The Austrian Federal Chancellor (BKA) – 2002 – 2004
Princeton University Graduate Fellowship (1,5 years) – Summer 2002
Styrian Provincial Government Fellowship, Department for Science and Research – Spring 2001
Stipendium für kurzfristiges wissenschaftliches Arbeiten im Ausland (4 months), Technical University Graz – 1999-2000
Socrates/ Erasmus – Mobilitätsstipendium (1 year)
Honors and Awards
Nomination for the Prix Ars Electronica Award 2013 (Category: “Digital Communities”), Linz, Austria – Fall 2012/13
Nomination for The Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the project Islamic cemetery Altach (architecture by Bernardo Bader, art by Azra Aksamija) – Fall 2012
Winner of the International 2012 Piranesi Award for Architecture, for the project Islamic cemetery Altach (architecture by Bernardo Bader, art by Azra Aksamija)
– Fall 2012
Nomination for The Mies van der Rohe Award 2013, the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture for the project Islamic cemetery Altach (architecture by Bernardo Bader, art by Azra Aksamija) – Fall 2012
Nomination for DETAIL Prize 2012 for the project Islamic cemetery Altach (architecture by Bernardo Bader, art by Azra Aksamija) – Spring 2006
Harold and Arlene Schitzer Prize in the Visual Arts 2006 (3rd pr.), MIT Council for the Arts – Fall 2003
Honorable Mention at 6th Graz Biennial on Media and Architecture – 2002