anticolonial maps
for lost lovers
Safi Alsebai

A Suite of Anticolonial Maps and Matters

A Suite of Aniconic Maps and Manners is a collection of scenarios, each foregrounding or 
backgrounding “aniconism,” the Islamic ban on the figural image, notably images of the body. 
The stories illustrate the iconic and aniconic elements of narratives from Islamic philosophy, 
theology, natural sciences, and politics. The suite is appended by a letter to “aniconism,” which 
has been a sustained interlocutor in my thought and writing for many years—as I continue to ask 
more questions of it than it provides me clear answers.
The text is accompanied by an image titled “A Story-Teller (After Walter Benjamin and 
Wolfgang von Kempelen).” Here, these stories are embedded onto a child’s paper fortune teller, 
embellished with images of the famed Mechanic Turk, the chess playing icon created by von 
Kempelen in 1770. The construction, a re-mapping of the text, toys with Benjamin’s emphasis on 
the Turk’s inside an outside (where the outside is historical materialism and the inside is 
theology), with the concepts of the zahir and the batin (visible and invisible, apparent and 
concealed) in Islamic aesthetics, and with notions of the inside and outside of texts. It asks the 
viewer—the seer, the player—to take a chance with the texts, to perform the act of reading, 
tangibly, and to explore what’s hidden beneath the images we deem iconic.

Safi Alsebai

Safi is a writer from Little Rock, Arkansas. His concerns lie in materialist inquiries into form, narrative, and image—drawing from traditions as disparate as modern political theory, medieval Islamic thought, contemporary critical theory, medical humanities, and (more recently) southern gothic literature and the New Narrative movement. His previous work has explored aesthetic and legal-political genealogies of anatomical dissection, and the various untimely counter-modernities present within medieval Islamic aniconism across various temporalities. He was an associate editor of Falsework, Smalltalk: Political Education, Aesthetic Archives, and Recitations of a Future in Common (Common Tern Works and Folio Books, 2021) and is a member of Hic Rosa Collective. He currently studies medicine at the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences and received his B.A. in Politics, Ethics & Aesthetics from Bard College at Simon’s Rock.


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