Livestreaming Islamic Arts: Digitisation as Translation in Shi'i Depictions of Karbala


  • Rhys Sparey King's College London


Battle of Karbala, COVID-19 Pandemic, Cultural Memory, Digital Art, Digital Religion, Experiential Translation, Individuation, Islamic Art, Shi'i Islam, Transmediality, Intersemiotic translation, multimodal translation


At the Battle of Karbala (680 CE), the Umayyad Caliph ordered the deaths of the Prophet’s descendants who Shi’i Muslims believe should inherit leadership of Islam. This article explores the digitization of their commemoration, which has always been transmedial. It analyses livestreams of commemorative recitation to consider incorporation of digital technologies into commemorative arts as embodied translation through which symbolic materiality allows a cultural memory of Karbala to resonate with Shi’as. It argues, following McLuhan (1964), that technologies are ‘ways of translating’ the significance of compresent traditions. This article contravenes McLuhan, however, insofar as he finds the electric to ‘exceed ourselves’ by translating ‘our entire lives into the spiritual form of information’. In contrast, this article stresses intimacy and fmateriality, in which vein it demonstrates that affordances exist in relation to their environment and cultural contingency. Given the prevalence of contrary claims, it highlights the enduring value of ontological pluralism.

KEYWORDS: Battle of Karbala, COVID-19 Pandemic, Cultural Memory, Digital Art, Digital Religion, Experiential Translation, Individuation, Islamic Art, Shi’i Islam, Transmediality. 


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