Sugata Ray

2016 Hellman Fellow

Assistant Professor, Art History
UC Berkeley

Project Title: Geoaesthetics in the Little Ice Age: Sensorium, Sacrament, and Artistic Cultures in Braj, ca. 1550–1850

Sugata Ray is Assistant Professor in the History of Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Taking the aesthetics of seeing the natural environment as a locus of inquiry, his current book project, Geoaesthetics in the Little Ice Age: Sensorium, Sacrament, and Artistic Cultures in Braj, ca. 1550–1850, examines the interrelationship between matter and (nonhuman and human) life in shaping creative practices and aesthetic philosophies during the Little Ice Age (1550–1850), a geological epoch marked by droughts and famines of unprecedented intensity across the world. Situating artistic and architecture practices, theology, and the agentive nature of the environment within a multi-sensorial world of talismans, mineralogy, horticulture, and ritualized vegetarianism, the book argues that post sixteenth-century liturgy in the Hindu pilgrimage center of Braj, the primary center of Krishna worship in India, constellated transregional Islamic visualities, European botany, eleventh-century Indic theories of performativity, and a new aesthetic consciousness of the natural environment in a time of massive ecological transformations. In examining the aesthetics of environmental thinking in the early modern South Asia, Ray’s book defines the contours of geoaesthetics as a possible methodology for an ecological art history.

“The Hellman Fellows Program will help to bring my book on environmental art history in the early modern period to completion. At a moment when our planet faces a massive global environmental crisis, my hope is to delineate deeper histories of human interaction with geographical, geological, botanical, zoological, astronomical, and climatic formation.”