Research Expertise and Interest

climate change, early modern, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean, art history, environment, globalization, ecology, Eco Art History, global art history

Research Description

Sugata Ray is associate professor of South and Southeast Asian art in the History of Art Department and the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies. 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 climate change and the visual arts from the 1500s onwards.  His first book Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 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). The book was awarded the 2021 Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, the 2020 Religion and the Arts Book Award by the American Academy of Religion, the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss Publication Fund, and was a finalist for the PROSE Award in Art History and Criticism. As an extension of his interest in the field of eco art history, Ray has coedited   Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence (2020; with Venugopal Maddipati, Ambedkar University, Delhi).

Sugata Ray’s current book project Anthropocene Extinction and the Making of the Early Modern World focuses on colonialism, climate change, and Anthropocene extinction in the early modern period (ca. 1450–1750). 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. 

Sugata Ray’s research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies, Social Science Research Council, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin and Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California Humanities Research Institute, Hellman Family Fund, College Art Association’s Meiss Publication Fund, the UC Berkeley Humanities Research Fellowship, 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.

Ray’s leadership experience includes serving as the Interim Director of the Institute for South Asia Studies (2021–22), advising on UC Berkeley’s strategic planning on climate change, diversity, and sustainability as the Co-Chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (2021–24) and as a member of the Arts and Humanities for the Future Task Force (2020) and the Signature Initiatives Working Group for Environmental Change, Sustainability and Justice (2018–19), among others. Along with colleagues in History of Art and the Department of Art Practice, Ray has established a new campus-level South Asia Art Initiative at UC Berkeley and, more recently, a Climate Change Initiative at the Institute for South Asia Studies. He serves on the Executive Committee of the UC Berkeley Tagore Program on Literature, Philosophy & Culture (2019–) and on a number of editorial boards including Brill’s Studies in Art & Materiality Series and Edinburgh University Press’ Refractions Series.

Affiliated with the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies (0% appointment), the Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, the Institute for South Asia Studies, the Group in Asian Studies, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Sugata Ray teaches courses on South and Southeast Asian art, 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, hydrocultures in early modern South Asia, and the circulation of ivory in the Indian Ocean word. 

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