Sugata Ray is Assistant Professor of South 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 of 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, University of Washington Press, 2019), examines the interrelationship between matter and (nonhuman and human) 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, paintings, temple jewelry, and textiles, 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 ecological transformations. 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 aesthetics of environmental thinking, Ray has coedited Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, Visual and Media Histories Series VI (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), a trans-disciplinary volume on the relationship between water systems and the phenomenology of spatial cultures in South Asia (with Venugopal Maddipati, Ambedkar University, Delhi). Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art (Berlin: De Gruyter), a second coedited book 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, is in progress (with Gerhard Wolf and Hannah Baader, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut).
Sugata Ray’s second book, provisionally titled Matter, Material, Materiality: The Contingency of Knowledge at the Margins of the Early Modern, centers on aesthetic taxonomies, technologies of production, and global knowledge systems that were circulating in South Asia through Indian Ocean trading networks. 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 collecting of Ming porcelain at the Mughal court. He is currently guest editing a special issue of Ars Orientalis (2018), a journal on the art of the Middle East and Asia published by the Freer|Sackler, on translations and terminologies in Art History.
In the past, Ray has published essays on the architecture of colonial museums, nineteenth- and twentieth-century collecting practices, and the formation of Art History in the colony in journals such as Art History and The Art Bulletin. Researched during his tenure as the 2013 Scholar-in-Residence at Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Ray's essay on the relationship between exhibition cultures and the making of an Islamic art history was awarded the Historians of Islamic Art Association’s 2014 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, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and, more recently, the Townsend Center for the Humanities and the Hellman Fellows Fund, University of California, Berkeley. Affiliated with the Institute for South Asia Studies and the Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, Ray teaches courses on South Asian art and architecture, as well as thematic seminars on the global early modern, eco art history, theories of collecting and archiving, postcolonial theory, and methodologies for a global art history. In the past, Sugata Ray has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Michigan.
affiliate faculty: Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, Institute for South Asia Studies