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In the enchanted world of Braj, the primary pilgrimage center in north India for worshippers of Krishna, each stone, river, and tree is considered sacred. In this lecture and discussion author Sugata Ray will be in conversation with Annapurna Garimella on his book Climate Change and the Art of Devotion. In this book Sugata Ray shows how this place-centered theology emerged in the wake of the Little Ice Age (ca. 1550-1850), an epoch marked by climatic catastrophes across the globe. Using the frame of geoaesthetics, he compares early modern conceptions of the environment and current assumptions about nature and culture. A groundbreaking contribution to the emerging field of eco-art history, the book examines architecture, paintings, photography, and prints created in Braj alongside theological treatises and devotional poetry to foreground seepages between the natural ecosystem and cultural production. The paintings of deified rivers, temples that emulate fragrant groves, and talismanic bleeding rocks that Ray discusses will captivate those interested in environmental humanities and South Asian art history.
Trained in both history (Presidency College; Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta) and art history (Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda; University of Minnesota), Sugata Ray’s research focuses on the intersections among early modern and colonial artistic cultures, transterritorial ecologies, and the natural environment. His first book, Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 (2019, awarded the CAA Meiss Publication Fund), examined the interrelationship between matter and life in shaping creative practices in the Hindu pilgrimage site of Braj during the ecocatastrophes of the Little Ice Age (ca. 1550–1850). As an extension of his interest in the field of eco art history, Ray has coedited Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art (2020; with Gerhard Wolf and Hannah Baader, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut) and Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence (2020; with Venugopal Maddipati, Ambedkar University, Delhi).
Sugata Ray’s current book project, Matter, Material, Materiality: Indian Ocean Art Histories in the Early Modern World, focuses on the global trade in exotica, natural resources, and luxury objects that shaped ecocultural perceptions of the Indian Ocean in the early modern period. In the past, Ray has published essays on theories of collecting and archiving, postcolonial theory, and methodologies for a global art history in journals such as Art History and The Art Bulletin and guest edited a special issue of Ars Orientalis (2018) on translations and terminologies. His 2016 essay on the collecting of Islamic art in the United States was awarded the Historians of Islamic Art Association’s Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize. He has spoken internationally on climate change and the visual arts and delivered keynotes at conferences, museums, and nonprofit organizations on eco art history.
Dr. Annapurna Garimella is a designer and an art historian who focuses on the art and architecture of India and is based in Bangalore, India. She heads Jackfruit, a research and design organisation, with a specialised portfolio of design and curatorial projects for artists, museums, government and private organisations and non-profits. Jackfruit’s most recent project is Vernacular, in the Contemporary for Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi. She is also founder of Art, Resources and Teaching Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that gathers resources and promotes research and teaching in art and architectural history, archaeology, crafts, design, and other related disciplines in academic and non-academic fora. She was the former Research Editor and Advisory Board Member for Marg Publications and is currently on the board of the S N School of Art and Communication, University of Hyderabad. She has written several essays on contemporary art and edited and contributed to two volumes, Shaping the Indian Modern on the work of Mulk Raj Anand and along with Bhanu Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee: Work in Language.