Keelan Overton is a historian of art and architecture specializing in the eastern Islamic world from Greater Iran to South Asia. She received her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles (2011) and her MA from Williams College (2004). She approaches visual culture broadly—urbanism, architecture and the environment, surface revetment, portable objects, arts of the book, the craft industries, documentary photography and film—and ideally from an interdisciplinary lens.
Since summer 2015, Overton has been an Independent Scholar based in Santa Barbara, California, where she divides her time between research, writing, teaching, and travel. She has taught at Occidental College, UCLA, UCSB, and Pomona College, and her recent travels as a researcher and tour lecturer have taken her to the Deccan (southern India), Iran, Morocco, Scotland, Armenia, and Georgia. In 2019-20, she was a Visiting Scholar in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in the summers of 2016 and 2018, she held research residencies at the University of St Andrews.
Overton previously served as the Curator of Islamic Art at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (Shangri La) in Honolulu (2011-12) and as an Associate Curator in the Art of the Middle East department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014-15). Her exposure to the Shangri La collection in 2003 inspired a longstanding interest in the reviving, collecting, and recasting of Iran’s cultural heritage. This research has been published in the journal West 86th (Bard/Chicago), the edited volume Arthur Upham Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art (Brill), and the exhibition catalog Doris Duke’s Shangri La (Rizzoli).
Overton’s recent edited volume Iran and the Deccan: Persianate Art, Culture, and Talent in Circulation, 1400-1700 (Indiana University Press, June 2020) features 14 essays by an interdisciplinary cast of 18 scholars specializing in history, art and architectural history, literatures and languages, and book arts and conservation.
Iran and the Deccan emerged out of Overton’s 2011 UCLA dissertation on book arts, painting, and collecting at the Bijapur court of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II (r. 1580-1627). Her dissertation research has been published as a series of journal articles (Muqarnas) and essays in edited volumes, including The Visual World of Muslim India (ed. Parodi, I.B. Tauris), Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition (eds. Patel & Leonard, Brill), and The Empires of the Near East (ed. Khafipour, Columbia). Most recently, chapter 10 of Iran and the Deccan is the culmination of her multi-year study, with book conservator Kristine Rose-Beers, of a Timurid-Safavid Qur’an manuscript once preserved in Ibrahim II’s Bijapur library and today in the University of St Andrews.
Overton’s current book project—Iran Unglazed: A Local-Global History of Persian Tilework—explores Persian tilework as a potent shapeshifting commodity between the field, museum, photograph, market, and imagination. She has been named a 2020-21 Getty Scholar (theme “The Fragment”) and hopes to be in residence at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles at some point in 2021 (timing tbd, per covid-19). Her Getty project is titled “Persian Architecture Fragmented: The Biographies, Trails, and Economies of Iran’s Tiled Surfaces, c. 1820–2020.” A component of this research has recently been published as a journal article: “The Emamzadeh Yahya at Varamin: A Present History of a Living Shrine, 2018–20” (with Kimia Maleki). Current teaching (spring 2021): Pomona College, Department of Art History, ARHI 120, Introduction to Islamic Art and Architecture