What compelled you to write this book now?
Both of my countries (the UK and the USA) have developed an increasingly xenophobic streak. It’s important that we fight narrow-mindedness and a lack of concern for other cultures with more education – especially for children. I wanted to write a book that encouraged students to move away from an exclusively Eurocentric focus, and set places such as Timbuktu, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro alongside Athens, Rome and London. I also wanted to emphasise how cultural exchange and immigration have driven some of our greatest achievements. We need more art, not walls!
Which period you researched surprised or pleased you most?
Researching the culture of First Nations people around the world – such as Nawarla Gabarnmung in 35,000 BCE, Cahokia in 1100, and Haida Gwaii in 1825 – was inspiring, especially since I live in Montana near the home of the Crow Nation. It’s imperative that countries like the United States do more to support Native Peoples and help them to preserve their heritage.
My scholarly work sits at the intersection between religion and visual art, so I loved the opportunity to delve more into the history of religion in places I have not studied much before in depth. I particularly enjoyed deepening my knowledge of Islamic art around the world, from Jerusalem in 700 to Granada in 1400 to Isfahan in 1700. I hope that I help readers see the true variety present in Islamic art and the diverse ways Muslim artists and architects have approached similar religious requirements.
You are about to become a father. What do you hope for your own child?
Some day I hope my son sees this book on our bookshelves and picks it up and I see him snuggled up in a comfy chair reading it intently. He can do whatever makes him happy in life, but I hope he finds some place for art.
Interview conducted by Katherine Waters @ theartsdesk.com