Zainab Bahrani


Ancient Near Eastern and East Mediterranean Art and Archaeology

Zainab Bahrani is the Edith Porada Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Her research and teaching cover a range of topics around ancient Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean world in antiquity including: image ontologies and philosophies of representation, mimesis, iconoclasm, monuments, antiquarianism and ancient practices of preservation and restoration, concepts of time and landscape. Alongside ancient art and material culture, her publications examine the history of scientific archaeology’s ties to imperialism and colonialism, museum history, biopolitics and collecting, and technologies of violence in archaeology.

Bahrani’s books include Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia (London: Routledge, 2001), The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), Rituals of War: the body and violence in Mesopotamia (New York: Zone Books/MIT press, 2008) which was awarded the James Henry Breasted Book Prize by the American Historical Association, The Infinite Image: Art, Time and the Aesthetic Dimension in Antiquity (London: Reaktion/ University of Chicago Press, 2014 which won the Lionel Trilling Prize, and Mesopotamia: Art and Architecture, London: Thames and Hudson, 2018). Her books have been translated into Arabic, Turkish and Italian.

In addition to her books, Bahrani’s articles appear in publications such as Art History, Art Journal, The Oxford Art Journal, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, and October. Bahrani has also co-authored and edited books to accompany exhibitions she has curated including: Modernism and Iraq (with Nada Shabout, New York, 2009) and Scramble for the Past: a story of archaeology in the Ottoman Empire, 1753-1914 (with Zeynep Çelik and Edhem Eldem, Istanbul, 2011).

Another aspect of her work is in the area of monument preservation, conservation and the contemporary politics of cultural heritage. Several of her academic publications focus on this subject from a theoretical perspective. Since 2003, Bahrani has also written widely on the destruction of the cultural heritage of Iraq due to wars, military occupation and development in both academic journals and the popular press, in publications such as The Nation, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal. Bahrani has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Iraq, Syria and Turkey and is the director of two ongoing projects in Iraq.

Bahrani studied archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she earned MA and PhD degrees in a joint program of Ancient Near Eastern and Greek art history and archaeology. Prior to her appointment at Columbia University, she taught at the University of Vienna in Austria, The State University of New York at Stony Brook, and was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At Columbia, she teaches a wide range of undergraduate and graduate lectures and seminars on ancient art and archaeology, the history and politics of archaeology and museums, as well as on the theories and methods of art history, material culture studies, postcolonial studies, and archaeology. She advises PhD students in all these fields. In 2008 she was awarded the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Prize for excellence in teaching.

Bahrani is the recipient of numerous fellowships, awards and distinctions for her research and writing including from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. In 2004, she was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. In 2010, Bahrani was elected Slade Professor of the Fine Arts at the University of Oxford, and in 2012 received a multi-year grant from Columbia University President’s Global Innovation Fund for her ongoing field project, Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments. In 2019 she won a Carnegie award for her project on the politics of archaeology in Iraq, Monumental Landscapes: historical environments and human rights. Bahrani was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020