India’s art history in one source

India's art history in one source

The history of art in India, dating back 10,000 years Bhimbetka cave drawings, has long been told through a Western lens or written by Indian scholars in a dense, academic style that seemed unattainable to many.

But that will soon change, when the MAP Academy Indian art encyclopedia comes online April 21. With over 2,000 initial entries, peer-reviewed by some of the world’s foremost art historians and South Asian experts, this is a project the scope of which has never been tried before.

“If there’s an encyclopedia of Indian art in Antarctica, I don’t know, but it’s definitely not in India,” said Abhishek Poddar, founder of the Museum of Art and Photography, or MAP, in Bangalore, which initiated the project. “There was not a single complete encyclopedia, which is a pity.”

The open-source encyclopedia — accessible only website or passing through the museum – will have entries in the form of articles, as well as images, and will cover everything from paintings, photographs, textiles and crafts to contemporary art from the last decade.

The encyclopedia has a wide reach, both in its content and in those it hopes to reach. This audience includes not only collectors, new and seasoned, but also scholars, curators, students, and anyone with a passing interest in learning more about the art of the region.

“This encyclopedia is really essential,” said Ayesha Bulchandani, a New York-based Indian art collector who is both a member of the MAP advisory board and a trustee of the Frick-Collection. “The digital presence of this encyclopedia really connects global cultures. It will inform libraries, curatorial staff, educational staff and the membership community, as it simply opens the dialogue between platforms. »

In many ways, the story of the encyclopedia is the story of the museum itself. Due to the pandemic, it didn’t have its scheduled physical opening two years ago, although its digital debut was quite successful. (Actual doors are should open late this year.)

One of the pillars of the private museum launched by Mr. Poddar, a successful industrialist and avid art collector, was art education, something not seen as important in the country. “Museum culture never really developed or took off in India,” he said, “and we don’t have the biggest museums in the world, although we have really amazing art.”

MAP Academy is the educational arm of the museum which, alongside the creation of the encyclopedia, has been tasked with providing art history courses online.

Its director, Nathaniel Gaskellwho came up with the idea for the encyclopedia three years ago, said it had two main goals: to provide better access for everyone to art history and to present it in a more diverse way depending on the region and the sexes.

“Before that, people got their information about Indian art either from Western institutions or from the market or from very specialized academics who write books that most people cannot understand,” said Mr. Gaskell in a video call. The history of Indian art, he added, was “not only of kings and rulers, but also of local craftsmen” and those who worked in community art.

To write the encyclopedia, the academy hired more than two dozen early-career Indian scholars and art historians to research and write the entries, which are then reviewed by international experts.

“The MAP team had used some of my books as reference and asked if I could verify the accuracy of their textile entries,” Rosemary Crill, former senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, wrote in an email. -mail. “In a confusing world of Wikipedia and other haphazard information, this might become the first question mark for people wanting to learn more about specific aspects of Indian art and culture.”

Geopolitical boundaries have, of course, changed over the centuries, so the encyclopedia not only embraces the art history of India, but also that of the entire subcontinent.

The articles are specifically written in a simple and easy to understand style, which was missing, said Anirudh V. Kanisetti, editor of the encyclopedia and author of “The Lords of the Deccan: South India From the Chalukyas to the Cholas.”

“I am convinced that South Asia needs more accessible historical writing in the public domain,” he wrote in an email. Compared to Britain or the United States, India’s history, he wrote, tends to be “much denser and more academic”, noting that young people curious about their past ” need materials that bring out its complexity” in a clever yet relatable way.

For now, the encyclopedia will be in English, but eventually it will also be in regional languages. The project will also focus on translating historical texts from local languages ​​into English for a wider audience to enjoy.

Deepanjana Klein, Christie’s international manager for contemporary Indian and Southeast Asian art, used as an example the historical art of the state of Kerala which “is so rich, but a lot of the texts are in Malayali, which is not accessible to many of us. ”

Ms Klein added that the encyclopaedia, which hopes to add around 1,500 entries a year, could become an essential resource for young collectors who want to learn more about how art has developed across the subcontinent. . “The art market is very strong for South Asia and it’s only getting bigger,” she said. “When people spend $500,000 and more, you’re also like, ‘OK, what am I spending this on? I need to get a little more understanding of what I’m getting into.

Ms Bulchandani agreed, saying the encyclopedia will add to “expertise and scholarship” not just among more seasoned collectors, but also for new ones who have a different view of collecting.

“I was talking about this project with young collectors,” she said. “They don’t go to libraries. They don’t buy books. They don’t collect things like our generation did. For them, everything is digital. This encyclopedia, she said, “is a pioneer”.