Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan


Margaret Morton, Cities of the Dead

Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan
Lectures by Margaret Morton and Nasser Rabbat

1.5 AIA and New York State CEUs

Co-presented by The Architectural League and The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and School of Art of The Cooper Union.

Traveling in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, Margaret Morton became captivated by the otherworldly quality of the local cemeteries. Her expert eye captured the diverse influences at play in this mountainous region. Architecturally distinctive, Kyrgyzstan’s dramatically sited cemeteries reveal the complex nature of the Kyrgyz people’s religious and cultural identities. The elaborate tombs combine earlier nomadic customs with Islamic architectural forms. After the territory was incorporated into the Russian Empire, enamel portraits for the deceased were attached to the monuments. Yet everything within the walls is overgrown with weeds, for it is not Kyrgyz tradition for the living to frequent the graves of the dead.

Held in conjunction with the exhibition Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan, photographer and Cooper Union School of Art professor Margaret Morton will present her in-depth study of this often-overlooked culture and tradition. Architect and a historian Nasser Rabbat, the Aga Khan Professor and director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT, will also give a talk entitled The Commemoration of Death in Islam. A discussion between Morton and Rabbat will follow.

A critically acclaimed photographer, Margaret Morton is a professor of art at The Cooper Union. She is the author of four previous photography books exploring alternative built environments: Fragile DwellingThe Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York CityTransitory Gardens, Uprooted Lives (with Diana Balmori); and Glass House.

Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. Rabbat is an architect and a historian, and his scholarly interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture and cultures, urban history, and postcolonial criticism. His most recent books are: Al-Mudun al-Mayyita: Durus min Madhih wa-Ru’an li-Mustaqbaliha (The Dead Cities: Lessons from Its History and Views on Its Future) (Damascus, 2010), Mamluk History through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (London, 2010), and an edited book, The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (London, 2010). A forthcoming book, al-Naqd Iltizaman (Criticism as Commitment), will be published in 2014 in Beirut.

The publication, Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan, was released by the University of Washington Press in November 2014 and is available online and in bookstores. Additional information can be found here. Morton’s photographic printing and book preparation were supported in part by a New York State Council on the Arts Architecture + Design independent project grant, sponsored by The Architectural League of New York. Learn more about her project here in the League’s ongoing series of Project Reports from grantees from the NYSCA Architecture + Design program.

Time & Place
Friday, February 20, 2015
6:30 p.m.
Rose Auditorium, The Cooper Union
41 Cooper Square
New York
Free and open to the public; reservations are neither needed nor accepted.