Lamia Balafrej


Ph.D. University of Aix-Marseille
Phone 310-825-0937
Office Dodd 247B



Lamia Balafrej specializes in the arts of the medieval and early modern Islamic world with particular interests in the intersection of labor, materiality, and representation, as well as the relation between aesthetics and ethics. Her first book, The Making of the Artist in Late Timurid Painting (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), revealed how artists engaged with self-reflection and theories of authorship in Persian painting, using aspects of composition, facture, and representation to define artistic authority.


Her current book project, Animated Instruments, addresses the relation between body and instrument in medieval Islam. The book explores a range of issues: the presence and role of enslaved artists in courtly workshops; the theme of the artist as “corporeal instrument” in medieval sources; the connection between slavery and courtly art and aesthetics; and the conceptual linkage between slavery and technology.


Her essays and book chapters have considered a wide array of topics, including the art of the poetic anthology in the Persianate world, the figural quality of the line in Persian drawing, the enmeshment of iconoclasm and iconophilia in the Islamic world, the presence of Islamic art in medieval Italy, and women artists from the Middle East.


Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from various institutions, including the Forum Transregionale Studien (Berlin, Germany), the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC). Before coming to UCLA, she taught at Wellesley College. An alumna of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris, she also studied literature and art history at the University Mohammed V (Rabat, Morocco) and Paris Sorbonne, before receiving her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Aix-Marseille in 2013.