Winner of the 2023 Rhonda A. Saad Prize for Best Paper | AMCA | Association for Modern + Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran + Turkey

Winner of the 2023 Rhonda A. Saad Prize for Best Paper

This year, we received a number of highly qualified papers from throughout the US and abroad. The 2023 Rhonda A. Saad Prize for Best Paper in Modern and Contemporary Arab Art was awarded to Sheyda Aisha Khaymaz for their paper “To Twist a Historical Knot: Projects of Pan-Arabism, Hurufiyya, and Amazighism.”

The Rhonda A. Saad Prize review committee found that Sheyda’s paper offers an insightful account of visual expressions of Arab and Amazigh identities. The committee appreciated Sheyda’s efforts in presenting the historical contexts and the socio-political milieu in which modern Arab and Amazigh abstract paintings were produced. In particular, the committee applauded the paper for its clear prose as well as its innovative decolonizing methodologies, including an emphasis on translocal encounters that are necessary for teasing out the complex conditions of exchange of ideas across the Arab region and the globe.

Sheyda Aisha Khaymaz is an artist, curator, poet, and PhD candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin, specializing in the modern and contemporary art of the Maghrib. Their doctoral dissertation, “Indigenous Presentness: Translocal Politics of Amazigh Art and Resistance,” focuses on the manifold expressions of indigeneity in art, exploring the nexus between Amazigh artistic production and sovereignty movements across Tamazgha—the ancestral name for the lands of Amazigh peoples. The project theorises the new artistic forms that emerged in the region after the 1960s, especially script-based abstract painting, which draw upon ancient sign-making practices, such as tattooing and rock-carving, as anticolonial phenomena. Their research aims to connect modern-day instances of Tamazight language activism and Indigenous revival movements with a larger discourse on indigeneity and Africanity.

This essay represents Sheyda’s attempt to formulate a decolonial methodology for art historiography through what they refer to as “translocal interstices.” The modern and contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa is often characterized by a desire to disentangle itself from the Western world, yet the essay does not fulfill this objective. Instead, it treats coloniality as a matrix of power and uncovers the unexpected confluence between colonial and decolonizing initiatives, both in the political and aesthetic domains. Each aesthetic gesture, the paper ultimately concludes, serves as a means of asserting power, inextricably yoked together within this knotty, irreducible matrix.

Established in 2010 in honor of our dear and respected colleague and friend, The Rhonda A. Saad Prize aims to recognize and promote excellence in the field of modern and contemporary Arab art. The award is offered to a graduate student or recent post-doctoral scholar working in any discipline whose paper is judged to provide the most significant contribution to the disciplines of Art History and Middle East Studies. For more information, submission guidelines, and interviews with previous winners, please visit

Thank you very much. Congratulations again, Sheyda!