Ülkü Bates at the Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi excavations in Syria in 1969 (standing second from left, with a big smile) with (standing) Fred Anderegg, William Trousdale, Oleg Grabar, and Hayat Salam; (seated) Renata Holod, ‘Ali Taha, ‘Umar Fa’ur, and Selçuk Batur. Courtesy of Kelsey Museum of Archeology, Michigan.

In Memoriam

Ülkü Bates 
Hunter College Professor of Islamic Art History from 1973 to 2012

Born in Costanta, Romania on December 3, 1938 
Professor Bates passed away in Portage, Michigan, August 7, 2023.

A pioneer in many respects, Ülkü Bates was one of a handful of Turkish female students pursuing Islamic Art at the doctoral level in the United States in the 1960s, when she joined the first cohort of renowned Professor Oleg Grabar’s supervisees at the University of Michigan. While most students in the field then focused on the imperial collections of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Ülkü chose to travel widely in Turkey, Iran, Syria, Central Asia and Egypt.  She quickly became a recognized specialist of Anatolian Sufi shrines, female patronage, and Ottoman Egypt, opening up the field of Islamic visual cultures to new approaches and ideas. It was with this expertise that she introduced Islamic Art History at Hunter College in 1973, as well as at the Graduate Center, and became a dedicated and much beloved teacher here. Her multilingualism and vivid intellectual curiosity also led her to serve the field through her intense activity as book reviewer on topics ranging from Indonesian sculpture to Mamluk textiles. This multifaceted passion for the transmission of knowledge led her to curate the very first exhibition dedicated to 18th and 19th century Ottoman art and material culture in New York City, at Hunter’s Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery in 2008.  A milestone effort, Re-Orientations: Islamic Art and the West in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries was a widely reviewed public success, and greatly contributed to opening up the field of Islamic art to the modern and contemporary period, and to the epoch at large. Another example of Ülkü’s commitment to bridging our academic community with a dynamic society all around is her leading role in the Hunter initiative which delivered Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, a classic textbook first published in 1983 and now in its eleventh printing.  Ülkü will be fondly remembered by all who met her in her numerous roles as a great scholar, colleague, teacher, and friend.
Nebahat Avcioğlu, Associate Professor of Art History


We were very saddened to hear of the recent death of our colleague, Ülkü Bates, who was a mainstay of the Hunter College Art History program for almost four decades. She was liked and highly regarded by everyone, not the least for her sense of fairness. Seemingly quiet and reserved, she soon revealed herself to be gregarious, with a wicked sense of humor. When she smiled, she did so “with every fiber of her face” as one former student described it.  Ülkü was also a model Graduate Program advisor and developed that role into what it is today. At a time when funds and attention were overwhelmingly directed to the Studio program, she fought hard for a bigger budget and staffing for Art History.

When I first starting teaching at Hunter College in the early 1990s, Professor Bates was the faculty member to whom I turned for advice on course preparation, students, and departmental goings-on.  She often spoke of her parents and her son with great affection. About ten years in, I noticed that she rarely took the elevator, but often emerged from the stairwell: to my amazement, it turned out that she not only walked from her office on the 11th floor to the classrooms on the 15th, but regularly came up from the ground floor on foot ( some twenty-two flights)  The secret, she explained, was to walk the length of the hallway, intermittently, from one set of stairs to the other, to catch her breath. Determined, pragmatic, gracious, and imaginative – that was Ülkü.

Professor Bates established the field of Islamic Art as part of a core of our art history curriculum, and inspired and inspired many students to go on to a doctorate in that field; indeed, when she announced her retirement in 2010, the administration did not hesitate to renew her line, to continue to build on what she so strongly established. We sent her off with a big bash with careful attention to good food and drink, since she herself was an excellent cook. After some thirty-eight years as a devoted colleague, teacher, and administrator, she deserved it, but more importantly, we wagered that the Faculty Dining Room on the 8th floor of Hunter West would be packed with former students, fans from the studio program, and other well-wishers – and it was.  Her smile was even wider that day, her eyes even more illuminated, and we felt happy that she retired from Hunter fulfilled as a scholar and a mentor and confident that she left a legacy at 68th and Park Avenue.

Emily Braun, Distinguished Professor of Art History


“Ülkü Bates’s Islamic course was another corner-turner. For her introductory lecture she showed an hour and a half of rapid-fire images of old and new treasures: mosques, in Africa, India, Iran, Turkey, East Asia, and Queens, New York, interspersed with pictures of illuminated books, musical instruments, ceramics and textiles. The final image—the final Islamic treasure—was a snapshot of an elderly man and woman sitting side by side in an Istanbul apartment. “This is my mother and father,” she said….Home and the world. Local and global. Personal history and art history. Inseparable.”

Holland Cotter, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic at the New York Times, from “Notes on Influence,” Brooklyn Rail, November 2016.


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