Moving Pictures

A digital encyclopaedia attempts to transform the study of Indian art

The encyclopaedia has a dedicated segment on Living Traditions, covering regionally specific folk and indigenous art and performance. Other segments cover several local court traditions, styles and textiles. COURTESY MAP ACADEMY
31 August, 2022

India has rich traditions of art that stretch back ten thousand years to the prehistoric cave paintings at Bhimbetka. What came as a shock to Nathaniel Gaskell, the director of the Museum of Art and Photography Academy—the research wing of the MAP, Bengaluru—was the dearth of authoritative information on Indian art. “I also realised that the information that is available has been long narrated through the Western lens, and the language is full of jargon that not everyone can understand,” Gaskell told me.

On 22 April 2022, in an attempt to do something about this relative paucity of literature, Gaskell launched an encyclopaedia of Indian art, a digital platform that endeavours to transform the way South Asia’s art histories are accessed, taught and discussed—both regionally and globally. With over two thousand entries, the platform allows anyone to systematically approach the breadth of the region’s art histories. 

“I came up with the idea around three years ago and I had broadly two goals: first, providing a wider access to the people, and secondly, to make the writing jargon-free and unbiased,” Gaskell said. “Up till now, people are reading about Indian art from Western perspective. With the encyclopaedia, we want to bring a shift.”

It took nearly two years to complete the first iteration of the encyclopaedia. A team of about two dozen early-career researchers and editors from across India and the world worked remotely, writing, editing and peer-reviewing content that covered everything from artists’ biographies, important works, craft traditions, themes, movements, monuments and cultural sites, as well as contemporary debates involving appropriation, surveillance, digital intervention and exchange.

Tanisha Saxena is a Delhi-based journalist who covers arts, queer culture, travel and lifestyle. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Hindustan Times, Outlook, Deccan Herald, The Hindu and the New Indian Express.