India’s art history brought together in a single source – The New York Times | Candle Made Easy

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

But that will soon change when the MAP Academy Encyclopedia of Indian Art goes online on April 21st. With over 2,000 initial entries peer-reviewed by some of the world’s leading art historians and experts on South Asia, it is a project the scope of which has not yet been tried.

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

The open-source encyclopedia – accessible on its own website or through that of the museum – will contain entries in article form as well as images, covering everything from paintings, photographs, textiles and crafts to contemporary art from the last decade.

The encyclopedia is wide-ranging, both in terms of its content and those it hopes to reach. This audience includes not only new and veteran collectors, but also academics, curators, students and anyone with a passing interest in learning about art from the region.

“This encyclopedia is really pivotal,” said Ayesha Bulchandani, a New York-based collector of Indian art who is both a member of MAP’s advisory board and a trustee of the Frick Collection. “The digital presence of this encyclopedia truly connects global cultures. It will inform libraries, curatorial staff, educational staff and the membership community simply because it opens up the cross-platform dialogue.”

The story of the encyclopedia is in many ways the story of the museum itself. Because of the pandemic, it didn’t have its planned physical opening two years ago, although its digital debut was quite a success. (The actual doors are expected to open later this year.)

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

The MAP Academy is the museum’s educational arm, which has been tasked with conducting online art history courses in addition to compiling the encyclopedia.

Its director, Nathaniel Gaskell, who came up with the idea for the encyclopedia three years ago, said he has two main goals: to make art history more accessible for everyone and to present it in a way that is more regional and gender-sensitive.

“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 can’t understand,” Mr Gaskell said in a video call. Indian art history, he added, is “not just kings and rulers, but also local artisans” and those who worked in community art.

To write the encyclopedia, the academy hired over two dozen young Indian academics 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 references and asked if I could check their textile entries for accuracy,” wrote Rosemary Crill, a former senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, in an email. “In a confusing world of Wikipedia and other random information, this could become the first port of call for people wanting to learn more about specific aspects of Indian art and culture.”

Geopolitical boundaries have of course shifted over the centuries, so the encyclopedia covers not just the history of art in India, but that of the entire subcontinent.

The articles are specifically written in a straightforward and easy-to-understand style, which has been lacking until now, said Anirudh V. Kanisetti, editor of the encyclopedia and author of Lords of the Deccan: Southern India From the Chalukyas to the Cholas.

“I believe South Asia needs more publicly available historiography,” he wrote in an email. Compared to Britain or the United States, India’s history tends to be “much more dense and academic,” noting that young people interested in their past “need materials that highlight its complexity in an intelligent but relatable way.”

For now, the encyclopedia will be in English, but eventually there will be regional languages ​​as well. The project will also focus on translating historical texts from local languages ​​into English to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Deepanjana Klein, Christie’s international director for contemporary Indian and Southeast Asian art, cited as an example historical art from the state of Kerala, which “is so rich, but a lot of the text is in Malayali, which many of us don’t have access to. ”

Ms Klein added that the encyclopedia, which is expected to add around 1,500 entries annually, could become an important resource for young collectors wanting to learn more about how art has evolved on the subcontinent. “The art market is very strong for South Asia and it’s growing,” she said. “When people spend $500,000 and up, you think, ‘Okay, what am I spending this on? I need to understand a little better what I’m getting myself into.’”

Ms. Bulchandani agreed, saying the encyclopedia will contribute to “connoisseurship and scholarship” not only among more experienced collectors but also among newer collectors who have a different take on collecting.

“I’ve spoken to younger collectors about this project,” she said. “They don’t go to libraries. You don’t buy books. They don’t collect like our generation did. For them everything is digital.” This encyclopedia, she said, “is a milestone”.

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