Sugata Ray is Associate Professor of South and Southeast Asian art and architecture in the History of Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Trained in both history (Presidency College; Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta) and art history (Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda; University of Minnesota), Ray’s research focuses on the intersections among early modern and colonial artistic cultures, transterritorial ecologies, and the natural environment.
Taking the aesthetics of seeing the natural environment as a locus of inquiry, his recent book, 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), examines the interrelationship between matter and life in shaping creative practices and aesthetic philosophies during the Little Ice Age (ca. 1550–1850), a climatic epoch marked by droughts of unprecedented intensity across the world. Examining architecture and paintings, alongside theological texts, sacramental hymns, and poetry, the book focuses on the Hindu pilgrimage center of Braj, the primary site of Krishna worship in India where a place-oriented theology based on venerating the natural environment found articulation in the sixteenth century in a time of massive ecocatastrophes. Publications from this project have appeared in journals such as South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and in volumes on critical eco art histories.
As an extension of his interest in the field of eco art history, Ray has coedited two books. Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, Visual and Media Histories Series (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2020; with Venugopal Maddipati, Ambedkar University, Delhi) is a trans-disciplinary volume on the relationship between water systems and the phenomenology of spatial cultures in South Asia from the sixteenth century to the present. Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020; with Gerhard Wolf and Hannah Baader, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut) focuses on the intersections between ecological art and global art history envisaged in a historical and transcultural perspective from the earliest known human interaction with the environment to the present day.
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. Forthcoming publications from this new project include essays on the representation of New World fauna such as turkeys in South Asian painterly cultures and the global histories of the coco de mer or the sea coconut (Lodoicea maldivica), endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. He has guest edited a special issue of the Ars Orientalis (2018), a journal on the art of the Middle East and Asia published by the Freer|Sackler, on translations, terminologies, and global art history.
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. Researched during his tenure as the Scholar-in-Residence at Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Ray's essay on the collecting of Islamic art in the United States was awarded the Historians of Islamic Art Association’s Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize. Other publications have focused on the politics of "inauthenticity” in global art history (James Elkins, ed., Is Art History Global? 2006) and postcolonial theory as aesthetic praxis (The Encyclopedia of Empire, 2016), among other themes.
Sugata Ray’s research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Social Science Research Council, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, the Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin and Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the Hellman Family Fund, the College Art Association’s Meiss Publication Fund, and the Getty Research Institute. He has spoken internationally on climate change and the visual arts and delivered keynotes at conferences, museums, and nonprofit organizations on eco art history.
Affiliated with the Institute for South Asia Studies, the Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, and the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies, Ray teaches courses on South Asian art and architecture, as well as thematic seminars on global early modern art, eco art history, theories of collecting and archiving, postcolonial theory, and methodologies for a global art history. His doctoral students are currently working on a range of topics including the global histories of Rajput painting, exchanges between Southeast Asia and the Americas in the early modern period, and maritime networks in the Indian Ocean region. In the past, Sugata Ray has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Michigan.