On December 7–8, 2018, the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, and the Harvard Art Museums organized “TRACE: Artisanal Intelligence, Material Agency, and Ritual Technology in South Asian Art” — a symposium that brought together scholars of South Asian art, history, and culture.

Art Through History

On December 7, keynote speaker Vidya Dehejia spoke about “The Unfinished,” highlighting the various theories revolving around the unfinished works in South Asia and how we could interpret sites across India in different ways.

The symposium on December 8 brought together scholars whose research embraces methodological interventions and theoretical implications of art history’s material turn in the field of South Asian art and architecture, mostly focusing on the period between 500 CE and 1,500 CE. Thematically organized, papers demonstrated how the process reveals hitherto invisible connections across time and space. Going beyond the rubric of material agency, papers also explored the importance of considering somatic intelligence and ritual technology that developed to activate power and sacrality of objects and buildings in Indic religious contexts.

Artisanal Intelligence

The participants of the symposium included art historians Michael Meister, Janice Leoshko, Jinah Kim, Pia Brancaccio, Lisa Owen, Sonali Dhingra, Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Nachiket Chanchani, and Anna Seastrand; historians Padma Kaimal, Tamara Sears, and Abhishek Amar; and museum professionals Laura Weinstein, Katherine Kasdorf, and Katherine Eremin.

During the event, Jinah Kim, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art at Harvard University, noted, “One of the interesting themes that emerged for me was the relation between trans-regional connectivity and transfer of artisanal intelligence.” Through this conference, attendees and practitioners were able to understand the depth of influence and the interactions we uncover while establishing connectivity between faraway regions.