Azra Akšamija is an artist and architectural historian whose work investigates transcultural aesthetics, cultural mobility, and ways in which art and architecture can form a bridge between cultures. She is an Associate Professor of the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Program in Art, Culture and Technology, where her research focuses on the representation of Islam in the West, architecture and conflict in the Balkans since the 1990s, and the politics of cultural memory and heritage. In her artistic work, Professor Akšamija combines intangible heritage from different cultural and historical contexts towards the creation of new art forms and shared future heritage. Her book, Mosque Manifesto (2015), offers a repertoire of ways in which creative forms of Islamic representation may foster better understanding between cultures, and generate a critical response to cultural stereotypes and politics of representation.
Professor Akšamija holds master’s degrees from the Technical University Graz and Princeton University, and a PhD in History of Islamic art and architecture from MIT. Her work has been shown at leading international venues including the Generali Foundation in Vienna, the Valencia Biennial, the Liverpool Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, SculptureCenter New York, Secession Vienna, Manifesta 7, Royal Academy of Arts, London, Queens Museum, New York, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini as a part of the 54th Art Biennale in Venice. She received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013 for her design of the prayer space in the Islamic Cemetery, Altach, Austria.
Akšamija, Azra. "Cultivating Convergence: The First Islamic Cemetery in Vorarlberg, Austria." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 3, Number 1 (pp. 131-146), edited by Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2014.
The Altach Islamic cemetery, winner of the 2013 Aga Khan Award, exemplifies how Islamic funerary architecture can contribute to nurturing pluralism in Western Europe. This newly opened cemetery is part of a wider trend in European funerary architecture; the increasing number of Islamic cemeteries reveals the contemporary dynamics of Europe’s cultural and religious diversification. While this new trend provides an opportunity to broaden the scope of representation for Islam in the West, most of the new Islamic cemeteries have been designed mainly to fulfil functional necessities, neglecting an opportunity to shape an intercultural dialogue from an architectural standpoint. In this context, the Altach Islamic cemetery demonstrates a new approach to creating Islamic architecture in non-Islamic environments that fosters cultural convergence. By emphasizing the dialogic dimensions of architecture through design, implementation and public mediation, this approach allows for an understanding of architecture as a medium for community-making and as a bridge between cultures.