Dr Natasha Morris

Associate Lecturer

Thesis: The Masculine Image in Qajar Iran (1779-1925)

Supervised by Dr Sussan Babaie

Additional advisor Dr Satish Padiyar

Funded by AHRC/CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership.

My thesis is a study of masculinity as articulated in the visual culture of Qajar era Iran (1779-1925).

The material evidence ranges from monumental paintings destined for niches on the walls of royal palaces and elite mansions, to lacquer-painted playing cards and penboxes, and from murals in Sufi lodges and coffee houses to lithographed books of Shi`ite narratives and classical Persian poetry.

With the exception of the occasional female dancer or concubine, the subject of these diverse mediums of Qajar visual culture in both public and private realms was that of the male figure. Be it the folk heroes of Shi’ite martyrology, the king and his progeny or even the ‘everyman’, images of Qajar masculinities circulated within spaces of male sociability. Given the mostly public visibility and viewing practices of such images by men, the collective effect of this material allows us to trace the use of male gendered imagery as an emblematic and ideological motif in Qajar culture. Representations of the male body, my study will argue, communicated cultural attitudes towards masculine identity and nationhood as Iran entered what has been referred to as the global moment of modernity in the nineteenth century. Iran during ‘the long Qajar century’ was subject to emergent colonial ventures from European superpowers including Britain, France and Russia. In that light, the Qajar masculine image was uniquely interwoven with emergent issues of nationhood in the tense negotiations between the global and the local, and their implications for the conception of ‘the idea of Iran’ as a country conscious of its own image and antiquity.

This project will be the first art historical consideration of Iranian masculine image during the nineteenth century and the first to investigate the reliable function of Qajar art as a social document.


BA History of Art – Courtauld Institute of Art (2010-2013)

MA History of Art – Courtauld Institute of Art (2013-2014) | Special Option: Persianate Painting – From the Mongols to the Safavids (14th – 17th Centuries) Iran Heritage Foundation Research Assistant and Courtauld Scholar (2013-2014)

PhD History of Art – Courtauld Institute of Art (2016 – 2020)


BA3 Special Option: Art and the Modern Nation: from Medieval Islam to post-modern Iran (2022/23)

BA1 Display as Discourse: Persian Art in London Collections (2021/22)

BA2 & Grad Dip Constellations: ‘From Shiraz to Beijing: A Taste for the Wondrous in 15th Century Persian Arts’ Autumn Term (2018/2019) and (2019/2020).

Short Courses Autumn: Making Sense of the Arts of Islam (2021, 2022)

Short Courses Autumn: Introduction to the Arts of Islam (2019, 2020)

‘Introduction to the Arts of Islam’, Autumn School Short Course with Dr Babaie, The Courtauld Institute of Art (September 2016)

BA1 Foundations – Block 4 ‘Urban Sites and Sights: Istanbul, Isfahan and Delhi in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’ (2016, 2017)

Research interests

Gender and Sexuality



The Male Body

19th Century

Material Culture

Modern and Contemporary Art from the MENA region

Recent conference papers

December 2021, SOAS Islamic Art Lecture Series, ‘The King and I’ Qajar Portrait Miniatures

September 2020, Christie’s, Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, ‘Reading Qajar Masculinity Through Literary Archetypes’

March 2020, Cambridge Lectures in Islamic Art, Pembroke College Cambridge, ‘War Games: Qajar Playing Cards’

April 2019, Symposia Iranica, University of St Andrews, ‘The King and I: Qajar Portrait Miniatures’. Winner of award for best paper on Iranian Art History sponsored by Cambridge Centre for Shahnameh Studies

June 2017, Beyond Men, University of Oxford, ‘Coffeehouse Heroes: Homosociability, Masculinity, and the Religio-Literary Archetype’.

September 2015, 8th European Conference of Iranian Studies, The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, ‘Bodies of Men: Masculinity and warfare in the Qajar Era’. Panel Sponsored by the British Institute of Persian Studies.

April 2015, Symposia Iranica, Downing College, University of Cambridge, ‘Opening the Face of Isfahan: Locating Portraiture in Safavid Single Page Painting (1600-1650)’. Honourable Mention for best paper on Iranian Art History, sponsored by Brill.

Other academic activity

Co-convenor of the Islamic Art Module, SOAS Graduate Diploma in Asian Art (2022)

Myojin-Nadar Project Curator: Middle East Art, British Museum (2019 – 2020)

British Institute of Persian Studies – Student Members Committee (2015 – 2017)

Co-organiser, ‘Recasting Reproduction’, International Conference, The Courtauld Institute of Art, November 2017

Co-organiser ‘Converging on the Object: The Courtauld Metal Bag’, International Conference, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 10th May 2014

Exhibition Catalogues

Recipe for a Poem – Azadeh Razaghdoost, ex. cat (Sophia Contemporary Gallery, Mayfair November 2016)

Afruz Amighi: Echo’s Chamber, ex. cat (Sophia Contemporary Gallery, 2017)

Reza Derakshani: Hunting the Light, ex. cat (Sophia Contemporary Gallery, 2018)

Veronica Brovall: Wear the Heat, ex. cat (Sophia Contemporary Gallery, 2018)

‘The Poetry of Landscape’ in Abbas Kiarostami (L’APAGE, 2019)


V. Porter, C. Tripp and N. Morris, Reflections: Contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa (British Museum Company, 2020)

S Babaie, V, Porter, N. Morris, Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art (Phaidon, 2017)

Newspaper & Magazine Articles

‘I Saved My Belly Dancer – Interview with Youssef Nabil’ | REORIENT Magazine (February 2016)

‘How Iraqi Are You? – Interview with Hayv Kahraman’ | REORIENT Magazine (October 2015)

‘Iran Goes Back to the Future at the Venice Biennale | The Guardian (18th May 2015)

‘An Anthology of the Final Decade: Exploring Iran’s Past Through Art’ | The Guardian (19th March 2015)

‘Infinite Possibility: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’ | The Guardian (27th December 2014)

‘From Institution to Iranian Revolution: Unedited History 1960-2014’ | The Guardian (3rd December 2014)

‘Iran: Unedited History’ | REORIENT Magazine (September 2014)

‘Strange Fruits of a Fascination’ | REORIENT Magazine (February 2014)

Interview with Tamara Abdul Hadi – NeverLazy Magazine (Autumn 2013)

Interview with Rose Issa – NeverLazy Magazine (Winter 2012)

Articles & Reviews

N. Morris, ‘Jeanne al-Ani’, Art + Christianity Journal, May 2022

N. Morris, ‘Haptic Games: Qajar Playing Cards in The British Museum’, Museum Studies Journal (forthcoming)

N. Morris, Review: Epic Iran at the V&A,The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) (2022)

N. Morris, Review: The Body Beyond, Oxford Art Journal (2022)

N. Morris, ’Textual Abstraction Within Transnational Modernism,’ Event Report (Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational 2021) https://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/hyundai-tate-research-centre-transnational/event-report-textual-abstraction

N. Morris, Review: L’Empire des roses: Chefs-d’oeuvre de l’art persane du XIXe siècle. Edited by Gwenaëlle Fellinger, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 160, no. 1387, October 2018.

N. Morris, ‘Coffeehouse Heroes: Constructing masculinity though space, sociability and vision in the Qajar Coffeehouse’, Special Issue ‘Beyond Between Men’, Past & Present, Oxford Academic Journals (forthcoming)