Professor Sussan Babaie

Professor in the Arts of Iran and Islam

Sussan Babaie joined The Courtauld Institute of Art in 2013 to take up a newly established post teaching on the arts of Asia which was supported by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Born in Iran, Sussan attended the University of Tehran’s Faculty of Fine Arts (Graphic Design) until the revolution of 1979 when she moved to the USA to study for a Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance and American Arts (American University, Washington, DC), followed by a PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she focused on the arts of Islam. She has many years of experience teaching at Smith College and the University of Michigan in America, and as the Allianz Visiting Professor at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich.

Sussan is currently co-curating with Shane McCausland (SOAS) an exhibition on the art of The Great Mongol State for the Royal Academy of Art (scheduled for Spring 2027). Her past exhibitions include the guest-curated Strolling in Isfahan, at the Sackler Museum of Harvard University (2010), and two exhibitions she curated with her undergraduate students at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (installation, 2002-2006), and at Smith College Museum of Art (1998). While she was a graduate student fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she co-curated and co-wrote the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’ (1989). She has consulted on Persian and Islamic arts with the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, the Detroit Institute of Art, and The British Museum. Sussan also curated with her students two installations at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon as part of her MA teaching. She works closely with The Courtauld Gallery of Art having been instrumental in a recent acquisition for the Gallery of two paintings by the Palestinian-Iranian artist Maliheh Afnan.

In her research, and teaching, she has maintained a strong commitment to transcultural methodologies and especially trans-Asian subjects, amongst which is her current Mongol project, with the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, a new MA Special Option starting in AY 2024-25 on the arts of the Mongols in West and Central Asia (Ilkhanate and Chagatai), and her ongoing shared teaching and collaborative student research project with Stephen Whiteman (The Courtauld) called ‘Trans-Asias: Early Modern Stories from the Courtauld’ electronically published on the Things That Talk platform. She is a specialist of the arts and architecture of the early modern Safavid period, with topics on urbanism and empire studies, on sexuality and social habits of ‘seeing’, and on transcultural visuality and notions of exoticism. Most recently, she has been developing a book-length project on Food/Art and the link between taste and seeing. A university-trained graphic designer, she writes and lectures on the historiography of the global contemporary and its implications for the arts of Iran and the Middle East. Her research has been supported by grants from the United States National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright (for research in Egypt and Syria), and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. She has received support for her teaching at The Courtauld from Iran Heritage Foundation, the Barakat Trust, and The Polansky Foundation.

Sussan was the Head of Admission and Widening Participation at The Courtauld (2014-15 and 2015-16) and the Graduate Diploma Programme Coordinator at The Courtauld (2021-22). She was, for seven years, an elected staff governor on the Governing Board of The Courtauld Institute.

'Noruz', installation co-curated (with MA students in my Special Option), at The Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Spring 2017

PhD Supervision


  • Rachel Alban, “’This Splitting of a Hair’: The Magic of Miniaturisation in Timurid and Safavid Manuscripts of Nizami’s Khamsa at the British Library”.
  • Yasmin Siabi, “‘The City of Learning’: The Madrasa of Madar-i Shah and rededicating Isfahan to a new imperial agenda of Shi’ism (ca 1694-1722)”.
  • Nada Fatima Raza, “Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea”.
  • Mandira Chhabra, “A technical study of dress represented in the Buddhist art of Gandhara- Materials, Techniques, Influences and Exchange” (with Conservation Department).
  • Margaret Squire, “Crafting Splendour: Safavid Carpets and Soft Power, 1598–1722”.
  • Jordan Quill, “Clothing the Palace: Indo-Persianate Textile Experience in the Courts of Northern India”.
  • Olga Gillen, “Affective Objects as Diplomatic Gifts: Iranian Gifting Policies from the Safavids (1501-1722) to Nader Shah Afshar (1688-1747)”.
  • Reza Daftarian, “Fractured and Dissolved, Architecture Ablaze: Toward an Understanding of Ayeneh-Kari in Twelver Shi’i Monuments of Iran and Iraq”.
  • Golnar Yarmohammad Touski, “Performing the Image: Iranian Diasporic Art, 1979 To Present” (Pittsburgh University).
  • Arvin Maghsoudlou, “Sasanian and post-Sasanian Silver Vessels: New Approaches to the Arts of the Iranian World during Late Antiquity” (Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX).


  • Janet O’Brien, “Vision of a World Conqueror: Nādir Shāh (r. 1736-47) and the Emerging Body in Persian Royal Portraiture”, The Courtauld (2022).
  • Natasha Morris, “The Masculine Image in Qajar Iran (1785-1925)”, The Courtauld (2020).
  • Massoumeh Nahid Assemi, “Of Piety Lamentation and Tears: Tekiyye Mu`aven ul-Mulk in Kermanshah (1885-1921) and the Making of a Nation”, The Courtauld (2019).
  • Seyed Mohammad Ali Emrani, “The role of gardens and tree-lined streets in the urban development of Safavid Isfahan (1590-1722); A comparative approach (Paris and Versailles in the 17th century).” Lehrstuhl für landschaftsarchitektur und öffentlicher Raum, Institut für Entwerfen Stadt und Landschaft, Technische Universität, Munich, committee member (2012)
  • Afshon Ostovar, “Radical Shi‘ism and the Modern Middle East: Nationalism, Modernity, and the Iranian Revolution.” University of Michigan, Department of History, committee member (2009)
  • Min Yong Cho, “How Land Came into the Picture: Rendering History in Fourteenth-Century Iran.” University of Michigan, Department of the History of Art, supervisor and chair of the committee (2008)
  • Diana Ng, “The Manipulation of Memory in the Public Buildings and Decorative Programs in Roman Asia Minor,” Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, committee member (2007)
  • Amy Landau, “Farangi-Sazi at Isfahan: The Court Painter Muhammad Zaman, The Armenians of New Julfa and Shah Sulayman (1666-1694),” University of Oxford, The Oriental Institute; co-advisor with Dr. Julian Raby (2007)

Forthcoming publications

Article & Chapters & Books

  • ‘Tabriz: On the Post-Mongol Silk Roads’ in UNESCO Thematic Collection of Cultural Exchanges along the Silk Roads: Architecture, Monuments and Urbanism, edited by Elena Paskaleva and Michael Turner (Unesco, 2024).
  • Encounters: The Great Mongol State in 50 Objects, with Shane McCausland (Routledge, 2026).
  • ‘Mashhad: the city of science’, in Art and the Mongol Great State and The Mashhad Observatory; the Science of Stars in 17th-century Iran (Gingko, 2026).
  • Art and the Mongol Great State (provisional title). Catalogue of the exhibition, co-authored and co-curated with Shane McCausland (Royal Academy of Arts, 2026-27). 



  • Iran After the Mongols. The Idea of Iran, vol. 8., edited and with an introduction. This is the gathering of 12 essays from two symposia I organized on behalf of The Soudavar Memorial Foundation (I. B. Tauris and Bloomsbury, 2019).
  • Geometry and Art in the Modern Middle East, conceptualized collaboratively with Roxane Zand (The Sotheby’s) who also edited, includes statements by 19 artists from the Middle East and North Africa; solo essay ‘The Spectacle of Geometry’ (Milan: Skira, 2019), pp. 13-21.
  • Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art, co-edited with Venetia Porter; co-authored lead essay ‘Global in the Local: Iran in Art and History’, pp. 25-47 (London: Phaidon Press, 2017).
  • Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis, co-edited with Talinn Grigor (I. B. Tauris, 2015).
  • Shirin Neshat (Detroit Institute of Art, 2013). Co-author with Rebecca Hart and Nancy Princenthal. Exhibition Catalogue, (Detroit Institute of Art (2013).
  • Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008). Winner of the 2009 Middle East Studies Association, Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award.
  • Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran, co-editor and co-author with Kathryn Babayan, Ina Baghdiantz-McCabe, and Massumeh Farhad (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004).
  • Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Marie Lukens Swietochowski (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989). Co-author of the Introduction and sole author of catalogue entries 20-36.
  • Persian edition of Persian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tarahi-ha-ye Irani dar muoze-ye honar-e Metropolitan, translated by Hossayn Rahmat Samiee, edited by Mohammad Hasan Semsar. (Tehran: Entesharat-e Zariran, 1383/2004-05).

Essays and articles

  • ‘Cloth: Cut to Cover’ in Selvedge (Issue 116:Uncut, 2023) 46-48.
  • ‘Architectural “worlding”: Fischer von Erlach and the eighteenth-century fabrication of a history of architecture’, in Journal 18 (Autumn 2021), volume dedicated to “The Long 18th Century?”, edited by Sarah Betzer and Dipti Khera.
  • ‘The Safavid Era: The Sense of Place’, in Iran. Art and Culture from Five Millennia, exhibition catalogue, edited by Ute Franke (Berlin: National Museums and Hirmer, 2021).
  • ‘Safavid architecture’ in The Safavid World, edited by Rudi Matthee (London and New York: Routledge, 2021):  507-536.
  • ‘Safavid Town Planning’ in Safavid Persia in the Age of the EmpiresThe Idea of Iran vol. 10, edited by Charles Melville (London: I. B. Tauris and Bloomsbury, 2021), 1050131.
  • ‘Royal Poses’, Apollo (April 2018): 64-68. Article was commissioned to coincide with the exhibition L’empire Des Roses. Chefs-d’oeuvre De L’art Persan Du 19e Siècle, Louvres-Lens.
  • ‘Cookery and urbanity in early modern Isfahan’, in The Early Modern Cultural Studies 18:3 (2018), 129-153, special issue on Islamic cities, edited by Babak Rahimi and Kaya Sahin.
  • ‘The Islamic Visual and Material Cultures’ Opening essay in The Making of The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World (London: British Museum, 2018), pp. 24-31.
  • ‘Missionary effects and messianic aspirations at the court of Shah ‘Abbas’ in Toward a Global Middle Ages-Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts, edited by Bryan C. Keene (Los Angeles: The Getty Publications, 2019), 137-147.
  • ‘The Delhi Loot and the Exotics of Empire’ in Crisis, Collapse, Militarism and Civil War – The History and Historiography of 18th Century Iran, edited by Michael Axworthy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 215-234.
  • ‘Chasing After the Muhandis: Visual Articulations of the Architect and Architectural Historiography’, in Affect, Emotion, and Subjectivity in Early Modern Muslim Empires: New Studies in Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Art and Culture, edited by Kishwar Rizvi (Brill, 2017), pp. 21-44.
  • ‘The Splendid Mosques of Iran and Central Asia’ in Mosques: Splendors of Islam edited by Jai Imbrey (Rizzoli, 2017), pp. 144-177.
  • ‘Lions in the Islamic Arts of Iran’, in Parviz Tanavoli and the Lions of Iran, Exhibition Catalogue, (Tehran: Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, 2017; in English and Persian):  239-286.
  • ‘Seeing thorugh people; Maliheh Afnan’, in Personnages, exhibition catalogue, MAN-Museo d’arte Provincia di Nuoro, Sardinia, 2019.
  • ‘Geographies of the ‘Beyond’, in Slavs and Tatars, edited by Pablo Larios, (Warsaw and London, 2017), pp. 84-89.
  • ‘Ethnicity as Destiny: The “Islamic” in Contemporary Iranian Art’ in Die Teheran Moderne. Ein Reader zur Kunst im Iran seit 1960 / The Tehran Modern. A Reader about Art in Iran since 1960, (Berlin: Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 2017), 74-89.
  • ‘DNA Damage: Violence Against Buildings’ in The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS, edited by Pamela Karimi and Nasser Rabbat. The Aggregate website, Volume 3, January 2017.
  • ‘The Global in the Local; Implicating Iran in Art and History’, in Anthony Downey, ed., Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (I. B. Tauris, 2015), 251-261.
  • ‘Istanbul, Isfahan, and Delhi: Imperial Designs and Urban Experiences in the Early Modern Era (1450-1650)’ with Çiğdem Kafescioğlu, in A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Finnbar Barry Flood and Gulru Necipoglu (Blackwell, 2015/16).
  • ‘Transcultural trends, personal desires, and collective agendas’ in Traces of the Poet, Artist, and Patron, ed. Amy Landau, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore,  2015).
  • ‘The Global in the Local: Implicating Iran in Art and History’, in Anthony Downey, (ed.) Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (London, I. B. Tauris, 2015) pp. 251-261.
  • ‘Sacred Sites of Kingship: The Maydan and Mapping the Spatial-Spiritual Vision of the Empire in Safavid Iran’ in Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis, co-edited with Talinn Grigor (I. B. Tauris, 2015).
  • ‘Visual Recitations: Neshat’s ‘Persian’ Arts’ in Shirin Neshat (Detroit Institute of Art, 2013). Co-author with Rebecca Hart and Nancy Princenthal. Exhibition Catalogue, (Detroit Institute of Art (2013).
  • ‘Practices of ‘participation” for the on-line exhibition catalogue SubRosa: The Language of Resistance, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, August 30 –December 7, 2013.
  • ‘Persisch-islamische Architektur’, in Handbuch der Iranistik, edited by Ludwig Paul (Hamburg, 2013).
  • ‘Frontiers of visual taboo: painted ‘indecencies’ in Isfahan’. In Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art, edited by Francesca Leoni and Mika Natif, pp. 159-186 (Ashgate, 2013).
  • ‘Delicate displays: on a Safavid ceramic bottle at the Museum of the Cairo University’, in Ferdowsi, The Mongols and Iranian History, edited by Robert Hillenbrand, A. C. S. Peacock, and Firuza Abdullaeva, pp. 375-381 (I. B. Tauris, 2013).
  • ‘Architekt und Architektur im persisch geprägten Asien (15.–17. Jahrhundert)’, in Der Architekt – Geschichte und Gegenwart eines Berufsstands, edited by W. Nerdinger (Architekturmuseums der TU München, Munich, 2012).
  • ‘The Palaces’, Architecture in Islamic Arts. Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum exhibition catalogue, (Geneva, 2012).
  • ‘Qavam al-Din Shirazi’, In The Great Builders, edited by Kenneth Powell, pp. 29-33 (Thames and Hudson, 2011).
  • “Voices of Authority: Locating the ‘modern’ in ‘Islamic’ Arts,” Getty Research Journal 3 (2011).
  • ‘The Safavid Empire of Persia: ‘The Padshah of the Inhabited Quarter of the Globe’, in The Great Empires of Asia, edited by Jim Masselos, pp. 136-165 & 231-235 (The University of California Press, 2010).
  • ‘Thoughts of a Painting; Reza Derakhshani in Retrospective View’, in Reza Derakshani; Selected Works (Geneva: Patrick Cramer Publisher, 2010), pp. 13-19.
  • ‘Painting as Performance’. Introductory essay for the catalogue of an exhibition of work by Reza Derakhshani, Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery, New York, January 2009.
  • ‘Visual Vestiges of Travel: Persian Windows on European Weaknesses’, Journal of Early Modern History 13 (2009), pp. 1-32.
  • ‘Launching from Isfahan: Slaves and the Construction of the Empire’. In Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran, edited by S. Babaie, K. Babayan, I. Baghdiantz-McCabe, and M. Farhad, pp. 80-113. (I.B. Tauris, 2004).
  • ‘In the Eye of the Storm: Visualizing the Qajar Axis of Kingship’. In L. Komaroff, ed., Pearls from Water, Rubies from Stone: Studies in Islamic Art in Honor of Priscilla Soucek, pp. 35-54. Artibus Asiae (special volume) LXVI, No. 2: 2006.
  • ‘Building on the Past: The Shaping of Safavid Architecture, 1501-76’. In J. Thompson and S. Canby, eds., Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Iran, 1501-76, pp. 26-47. (London and New York: The British Museum and The Asia Society, 2003).
  • ‘The Sound of the Image/The Image of the Sound: Narrativity in Persian Art of the 17th Century’. In O. Grabar and C. Robinson, eds., Islamic Art and Literature, pp. 143-162. Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (special volume): 2001.
  • ‘The Persian Text’ (translation and emendation of the Persian inscriptions in the Morgan Crusader Bible). In D. H. Weiss, ed., The Morgan Crusader Bible, pp. 77-102. Faksimile Verlag Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland and Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1999.
  • ‘Masjid-i Shah” [Royal Mosque]’. Da’irat al-ma’arif-i buzurg-i Islami [The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia] 9: 1999, pp. 198-201 [in Persian].
  • ‘Epigraphy iv. Safavid and Later Inscriptions’, Encyclopaedia Iranica 8: 1998, pp. 498-504.
  • ‘Paradise Contained; Nature and Culture in Persian Gardens’. The Studio Potter 25, no. 2, June 1997, pp. 10-13.
  • ‘Shah Abbas II, the Conquest of Qandahar, the Chihil Sutun, and its Wall Paintings’. Muqarnas 11 (1994), pp. 125-142.

Recent/major grants

  • 2012-13: National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for book project ‘Architectural Cosmopolitanism in the Middle East: Houses of 17th-Century Aleppo and Isfahan’
  • 2011, Spring: Tom and Patricia Kennedy Residential Fellowship, School of Art and Art History, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
  • 2009-10: Fulbright Regional Researcher-Scholar Grant, for Egypt and Syria
  • 2009: Winner, Middle East Studies Association, Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies
  • Book Award for Isfahan and its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2008)
  • 2008-09: Invited Visiting Scholar, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Other current/ongoing professional activities

  • President (2022-24), The Association for the Study of Persianate Societies,
  • 2019-present, member Editorial Board, Journal of Architectural History, The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain,
  • President Elect (2020-22), Association for the Study of Persianate Societies
  • President (2017-19), Historians of Islamic Art Association
  • 2019-present, member Advisory Board, Bilderfahrzeuge, Aby Warburg
  • 2018-2020, Editorial Board, Journal of Architectural History, The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain,
  • 2018-2020, member, Editorial Advisory Board, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
  • 2013-to present, Member, Advisory Board Muqarnas
  • 2013-to present, Member of the Academic Advisory Committee, Symposia Iranica, biennial international graduate conferences
  • 2013-2015, Elected Member, Governing Council, British Institute of Persian Studies
  • 2013-2017, Elected Council Member, International Society for Iranian Studies
  • 2012-2017, Elected Member, Board of Directors, Association for the Study of Persianate Societies (ASPS)
  • 2009-2012, Member, International Advisory Board, Art History
  • 2008-2015, Trustee-at-large, American Institute of Iranian Studies
  • 2003-2011, Secretary, American Institute of Iranian Studies
  • 2003-2012, Board member, Center for Iranian Modern Arts, Inc.
  • 2001-2008, Trustee of the American Institute of Iranian Studies, representing University of Michigan
  • 2006-2008, Member, Board of Directors, Asian and Islamic Art Forum, Detroit Institute of Art
  • 2001-2007, Member, Editorial Board, Ars Orientalis (a peer-reviewed journal jointly published by the University of Michigan and the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution)