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Books

Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 (Global South Asia Series and the Art History Publication Initiative, University of Washington Press, 2019) 

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 Climate Change and the Art of Devotion, 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 readers interested in environmental humanities and South Asian art history.

A wonderfully imaginative addition to the growing body of literature on the Little Ice Age. Sugata Ray traces the influence of climatic variations on South Asian art, architecture, and devotional practices with extraordinary interpretive skill.―Amitav Ghosh, Author, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

The rocks, rivers, forests, plants, animals, and even the skies of the Mathura-Vrindavan region in north India come alive as historical agents acting alongside humans in Ray's pioneering and imaginative attempt to develop a geoaesthetic approach to the study of Hindu religious art and architecture over a period ranging from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. His impressive ability to connect events in the realm of aesthetics and religious devotion with the climatic impact of the Little Ice Age in South Asia, is bound to influence debates in art history in South Asia and beyond. A brilliant achievement.―Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

Sugata Ray's Climate Change and the Art of Devotion draws an unexpected and strikingly original connection between the catastrophic consequences of the Little Ice Age (c. 1550-1850) and the rise of a site-specific theology at the pilgrim centre of Braj in India. This scholarly, elegantly written art historical monograph that skilfully combines archival scholarship with theoretical sophistication, makes a powerful contribution to recent debates on the environmental crisis in the present anthropocene epoch.―Partha Mitter, author of The Triumph of Modernism: India's Artists and the Avant-Garde – 1922-1947

Sugata Ray’s important book represents a bold attempt to frame a new ecology of art and to engage with local ways of thinking that have not been previously been incorporated into scholarship. It should gain a wide audience.—Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Frederick Marquand Professor, Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University

A bold and ambitious project that takes on a sweeping range of issues across both the humanities and social sciences. Ray brings core Indian material into dialogue with current conversations about the relationship between the human and nonhuman, between materiality and immateriality, and climate change and visual culture. The book serves as a challenge to future scholars to expand the range of their own conversations.―Tamara Sears, author of Worldly Gurus and Spiritual Kings: Architecture and Asceticism in Medieval India

Available here


Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati, eds. Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, Visual and Media Histories Series (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2020)

This book surveys the intersections between water systems and the phenomenology of visual cultures in early modern, colonial, and contemporary South Asia. Bringing together contributions by eminent artists, architects, curators, and scholars who explore the connections between the environmental and the cultural, the volume situates water in an expansive relational domain. It covers disciplines as diverse as literary studies, environmental humanities, sustainable design, urban planning, and media studies. The chapters explore the ways in which material cultures of water generate technological and aesthetic acts of envisioning geographies and make an intervention within political, developmental, and cultural discourses. A critical interjection in the sociologies of water in the subcontinent, the book brings art history into conversation with current debates on climate change by examining water’s artistic, architectural, engineering, religious, scientific, and environmental facets from the 16th century to the present.

This is one of the first books on South Asia’s art, architecture and visual history to interweave the ecological with the aesthetic under the emerging field of eco art history. The volume will be of interest to scholars and general readers of art history, Islamic studies, South Asian studies, urban studies, architecture, geography, history, and environmental studies. It will also appeal to activists, curators, art critics, and those interested in water management.

This eclectic collection of essays attempts to capture an ineffable quality of waterscapes: that they shape imaginations and actions in ways both fluid and enduring. At a time when the challenge of climate change calls for creative cultural politics, this exploration of ways of seeing and being is all the more valuable.—Amita Baviskar, Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, India

Available here


Sugata Ray, ed. “The Language of Art History,” Special issue of Ars Orientalis 48 (2018)

Guest edited by Sugata Ray, the forty-eighth volume of Ars Orientalis, “The Language of Art History,” foregrounds the concepts of “translations,” “terminologies,” and “global art history.” The seven articles in the volume all were developed from papers presented at the Thirty-fourth World Congress of Art History in Beijing, hosted by the Chinese committee of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA). They address key issues with methodological urgency, such as the development of representational techniques across cultures, the relationships between real spaces and spaces of representation, the adaptations of architectural idioms within the context of colonialism and its legacy, and the notion of objecthood in the digital age. In doing so, the authors test the terms and methods for a global art history and explore diverse modes of being in translation.

Available here


Bezoar Stone from Goa with gold filigree, 17th Century Repository: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien

Bezoar Stone from Goa with gold filigree, 17th Century Repository: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien

Hannah Baader, Gerhard Wolf, and Sugata Ray, eds. Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art (in progress)

Matter, Material, Materiality: Indian Ocean Art Histories in the Early Modern World (in progress)


Essays and Book Chapters

“From New Spain to Mughal India: Rethinking Early Modern Animal Studies with a Turkey, ca. 1612,” in  Picture Ecology: Art and Ecocriticism in Planetary Perspective , edited by Karl Kusserow, forthcoming. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.

“From New Spain to Mughal India: Rethinking Early Modern Animal Studies with a Turkey, ca. 1612,” in Picture Ecology: Art and Ecocriticism in Planetary Perspective, edited by Karl Kusserow, forthcoming. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.

“A ‘Small’ Story of the Jasmine Flower in the Era of Global Botany,” in  Crafting Artisanal Praxis: Networks of Power in the Long Eighteenth Century , edited by Lauren Cannady and Jennifer Ferng, forthcoming. Oxford: Oxford Studies in the Enlightenment and the Voltaire Foundation, 2020.

“A ‘Small’ Story of the Jasmine Flower in the Era of Global Botany,” in Crafting Artisanal Praxis: Networks of Power in the Long Eighteenth Century, edited by Lauren Cannady and Jennifer Ferng, forthcoming. Oxford: Oxford Studies in the Enlightenment and the Voltaire Foundation, 2020.


"Water is a Limited Commodity: Ecological Aesthetics in the Little Ice Age, Mathura, ca. 1614," in  Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence , edited by Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati, 37–59. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

"Water is a Limited Commodity: Ecological Aesthetics in the Little Ice Age, Mathura, ca. 1614," in Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, edited by Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati, 37–59. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

“Introduction: The Materiality of Liquescence,” in  Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence , edited by Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati, 1–16. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020. (with Venugopal Maddipati)

“Introduction: The Materiality of Liquescence,” in Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, edited by Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati, 1–16. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020. (with Venugopal Maddipati)


“Introduction: Translation as Art History,” in “The Language of Art History,” ed. Sugata Ray, special issue,  Ars Orientalis  48 (2018): 1–19.

“Introduction: Translation as Art History,” in “The Language of Art History,” ed. Sugata Ray, special issue, Ars Orientalis 48 (2018): 1–19.

“From Landscape to Land: Eco Aesthetics as Decolonial Imaginaire in Tulkarm,”  28 Magazine  12 (2018): 40–51. [Published in Arabic]

“From Landscape to Land: Eco Aesthetics as Decolonial Imaginaire in Tulkarm,” 28 Magazine 12 (2018): 40–51. [Published in Arabic]


"Hydroaesthetics in the Little Ice Age: Theology, Artistic Cultures, and Environmental Transformation in Early Modern Braj, ca. 1560–70,"  South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies  40, no. 1 (March 2017): 1–23. Video abstract:  https://vimeo.com/183801693

"Hydroaesthetics in the Little Ice Age: Theology, Artistic Cultures, and Environmental Transformation in Early Modern Braj, ca. 1560–70," South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 40, no. 1 (March 2017): 1–23. Video abstract: https://vimeo.com/183801693

“Would the Peepal Marry?”  TAKE on Art: Ecology  3, no. 1 (January 2017): 31–33.

“Would the Peepal Marry?” TAKE on Art: Ecology 3, no. 1 (January 2017): 31–33.


"Ecomoral Aesthetics at Vishram Ghat in Mathura: Three Ways of Seeing a River," in  Water Design: Environment and Histories , edited by Jutta Jain-Neubauer, 58–69. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2016.

"Ecomoral Aesthetics at Vishram Ghat in Mathura: Three Ways of Seeing a River," in Water Design: Environment and Histories, edited by Jutta Jain-Neubauer, 58–69. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2016.

“Shangri La: The Archive-Museum and the Spatial Topologies of Islamic Art History,” in  Rethinking Place in South Asian and Islamic Art, 1500–Present , edited by Deborah S. Hutton and Rebecca M. Brown, 163–83. New York: Routledge, 2016.

“Shangri La: The Archive-Museum and the Spatial Topologies of Islamic Art History,” in Rethinking Place in South Asian and Islamic Art, 1500–Present, edited by Deborah S. Hutton and Rebecca M. Brown, 163–83. New York: Routledge, 2016.


"Postcolonialism," in  The Encyclopedia of Empire , edited by John M. MacKenzie, 1–3. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

"Postcolonialism," in The Encyclopedia of Empire, edited by John M. MacKenzie, 1–3. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

"The 'Effeminate' Buddha, the Yogic Male Body, and the Ecologies of Art History in Colonial India,"  Art History  38, no. 5 (November 2015): 916–39.

"The 'Effeminate' Buddha, the Yogic Male Body, and the Ecologies of Art History in Colonial India," Art History 38, no. 5 (November 2015): 916–39.


"Colonial Frames, 'Native' Claims: The Jaipur Economic and Industrial Museum,"  The Art Bulletin  96 no. 2 (July 2014): 196–212.

"Colonial Frames, 'Native' Claims: The Jaipur Economic and Industrial Museum," The Art Bulletin 96 no. 2 (July 2014): 196–212.

"Is Art History Global? Responding from the Margins," in  Is Art History Global?  edited by James Elkins, 348–57. New York: Routledge, 2007. Coauthored with Atreyee Gupta.

"Is Art History Global? Responding from the Margins," in Is Art History Global? edited by James Elkins, 348–57. New York: Routledge, 2007. Coauthored with Atreyee Gupta.


Book Reviews