Microsoft and MAP, Bengaluru, Develop New AI-Powered Platform

Published on Aug 19, 2022 03:18 PM IST

Microsoft and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, have developed a new artificial intelligence-powered platform for connecting artworks and cultures around the world

A screen grab of the nodal network on the INTERWOVEN platform, showing the ‘anchor’ textile with those from around the world that the AI has connected it to.
A screen grab of the nodal network on the INTERWOVEN platform, showing the ‘anchor’ textile with those from around the world that the AI has connected it to.
ByHT Brand Studio

INTERWOVEN is rooted in MAP’s vast collection of South Asian textiles and was developed as part of Microsoft’s AI for Cultural Heritage initiative, which leverages technology to empower people and organisations dedicated to the preservation and enrichment of art and culture.

Vrindavani Vastra Fragment Unknown; late 19th century - early 20th century Dimensions: H. 79 X W. 74.5 cm Medium: silk   Fragment of a Vrindavani Vastra depicting scenes of the Hindu deity Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana in maroon, white, yellow on a dark grey ground. Vrindavani Vastras are figured silk textiles that originated in Assam in the sixteenth century as part of the Hindu Vaishnavite tradition, and were used to wrap copies of the Bhagavata Purana or hung as part of the Vaishnavite shrines
Vrindavani Vastra Fragment Unknown; late 19th century - early 20th century Dimensions: H. 79 X W. 74.5 cm Medium: silk   Fragment of a Vrindavani Vastra depicting scenes of the Hindu deity Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana in maroon, white, yellow on a dark grey ground. Vrindavani Vastras are figured silk textiles that originated in Assam in the sixteenth century as part of the Hindu Vaishnavite tradition, and were used to wrap copies of the Bhagavata Purana or hung as part of the Vaishnavite shrines

Previous projects under the initiative have involved improving accessibility through the Open Access collection of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the digital restoration of ‘Ancient Olympia’, in collaboration with the Government of Greece. The Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru is delighted to be the first project under the initiative in Asia.

Morakuti Pichwai Unknown; early 20th century Dimensions: H. 270.5 X W. 323 cm Medium: mineral pigments, cotton   A rectangular pichwai panel. The panel, painted in the typical Nathdwara style, displays a scene of thirty-two peacocks and peahens. Six of the peacocks fan their feathers for the clusters of peahens. The Pichwai panel is presumably depicting a Ras Leela, alluding to Krishna playing with gopis (cow-herd girls). Derived from the terms Pichh (back) and Wai (hanging), Pichwais are painted textiles used as backdrops, wall coverings and ceiling canopies in temples to celebrate events and festivals associated with Krishna.
Morakuti Pichwai Unknown; early 20th century Dimensions: H. 270.5 X W. 323 cm Medium: mineral pigments, cotton   A rectangular pichwai panel. The panel, painted in the typical Nathdwara style, displays a scene of thirty-two peacocks and peahens. Six of the peacocks fan their feathers for the clusters of peahens. The Pichwai panel is presumably depicting a Ras Leela, alluding to Krishna playing with gopis (cow-herd girls). Derived from the terms Pichh (back) and Wai (hanging), Pichwais are painted textiles used as backdrops, wall coverings and ceiling canopies in temples to celebrate events and festivals associated with Krishna.

South Asian textiles embody rich histories that highlight relationships across vast regions. With pioneering innovations and an early mastery over complex techniques, artisans from the region – distinguished for their excellence – catered to the world for centuries, and through historic trade, their work has helped shape the world both aesthetically and politically.

Shikargarh Brocade Skirt Unknown; 20th century Dimensions: L. 93 cm, W. Circ 84 cm, Circ. 516, Tying String L. 45 cm Extra belt L. 88 cm ; W. 9 cm tying string 29 cm Medium: silk, gilt metal  A red and green Banaras brocade skirt, stitched together from thirty four conical panels and gathered at the waist. Animal motifs such as lions, elephants and peacocks are woven in pairs longitudinally. Silk Banaras brocades like this skirt are woven with zari and characterised by Mughal floral designs, such as vines and dense trellises. Such textiles were patronised by the Mughals who preferred heavily brocaded silk textiles with gold and silver zari.
Shikargarh Brocade Skirt Unknown; 20th century Dimensions: L. 93 cm, W. Circ 84 cm, Circ. 516, Tying String L. 45 cm Extra belt L. 88 cm ; W. 9 cm tying string 29 cm Medium: silk, gilt metal  A red and green Banaras brocade skirt, stitched together from thirty four conical panels and gathered at the waist. Animal motifs such as lions, elephants and peacocks are woven in pairs longitudinally. Silk Banaras brocades like this skirt are woven with zari and characterised by Mughal floral designs, such as vines and dense trellises. Such textiles were patronised by the Mughals who preferred heavily brocaded silk textiles with gold and silver zari.
Kalamkari Hanging Unknown; late 19th century – mid 20th century Dimensions: L. 112.5 x W. 62 cm Medium: cotton, natural dyes  A rectangular, hand painted kalamkari panel depicting the Hindu gods Kartikeya and Ganesh, in shades of red and black, on an off white cotton ground. Derived from the Persian, kalam (pen) and kari (work), Kalamkari is a hand painting and block printing technique. The tradition heightened under the Mughal dynasty and the Golconda Sultanate, and flourished as trade textiles across Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Kalamkari Hanging Unknown; late 19th century – mid 20th century Dimensions: L. 112.5 x W. 62 cm Medium: cotton, natural dyes  A rectangular, hand painted kalamkari panel depicting the Hindu gods Kartikeya and Ganesh, in shades of red and black, on an off white cotton ground. Derived from the Persian, kalam (pen) and kari (work), Kalamkari is a hand painting and block printing technique. The tradition heightened under the Mughal dynasty and the Golconda Sultanate, and flourished as trade textiles across Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

INTERWOVEN has been over a year in the making, and brings together collections from key institutions and partners across the world alongside MAP’s (including the V&A, London, MET, New York, Rietberg, Zürich and the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada) to reveal connections between artworks from different cultures, mediums and time periods. INTERWOVEN represents these visually and intuitively, encouraging further exploration, discovery and cross-cultural exchange.

Palampore Unknown; late 19th century Dimensions: H. 262 cm x W. 170 cm Medium: cotton, natural dyes  A kalamkari palampore with a central tree of life motif and ornamental borders rendered in red, white and black on a cotton ground. The kalamkari textile showcases a stylised tree of life motif with floral and geometric forms, a design which is longitudinally symmetrical. Palampores were hangings or textiles used as furnishings exported to Europe from India in the eighteenth century and were recognised by their blue and red colouring, as well as floral motifs and the representation of the tree of life.
Palampore Unknown; late 19th century Dimensions: H. 262 cm x W. 170 cm Medium: cotton, natural dyes  A kalamkari palampore with a central tree of life motif and ornamental borders rendered in red, white and black on a cotton ground. The kalamkari textile showcases a stylised tree of life motif with floral and geometric forms, a design which is longitudinally symmetrical. Palampores were hangings or textiles used as furnishings exported to Europe from India in the eighteenth century and were recognised by their blue and red colouring, as well as floral motifs and the representation of the tree of life.

The platform works by providing users two options. The first (Curated Journeys) allows the user to view predefined journeys, created primarily by MAP’s educational and research arm - the MAP Academy. These combine relationships between global artefacts suggested by the AI, which are then researched and expanded further by individual curators. It is an explorative model for how AI might be used in museology and art historical research. These cover a range of themes and subjects, from ideas of anti-imperialism, to representations of women, to explorations of leisure. One of the journeys, for instance, even traces the forms and functions of handbags across different cultures and time-periods, shedding light on their associations with ideas of community, convenience and haute couture.

Patola Ceremonial Textile Unknown; early 19th century Dimensions: L. 432 cm x W. 134 cm Medium: silk  A Patola textile, perhaps a shoulder cloth, woven in red, white, yellow, blue and black on a maroon ground. Patola, woven by the Jain weavers of the Salvi community in Patan, Gujarat, refers to both the double Ikat weaving technique and the resulting textile. Patolas feature floral, animal and geometric motifs, and were largely traded with and created for Southeast Asian markets until the early twentieth century.
Patola Ceremonial Textile Unknown; early 19th century Dimensions: L. 432 cm x W. 134 cm Medium: silk  A Patola textile, perhaps a shoulder cloth, woven in red, white, yellow, blue and black on a maroon ground. Patola, woven by the Jain weavers of the Salvi community in Patan, Gujarat, refers to both the double Ikat weaving technique and the resulting textile. Patolas feature floral, animal and geometric motifs, and were largely traded with and created for Southeast Asian markets until the early twentieth century.

The second option (Custom Journeys) invites general users to explore the platform to stumble upon meaningful and sometimes even surprising visual connections. It provides a new way to engage with culture, and learn more about the history of textiles and fashion and their relationship to global exchange. The MAP Academy – Knowledge partners of INTERWOVEN - have been leading the research and curated content of the project along with Microsoft. The MAP Academy is a pioneering organisation dedicated to making the histories of South Asian art more accessible and inclusive, for audiences within the Indian subcontinent and around the world. It’s writing the first comprehensive Encyclopedia of Indian Art History, as well as offering an extensive online curriculum for South Asian Art History.

Shatrunjay Pata / Tirth Pata Unknown; c.1820 Dimensions: L. 310 cm, W. 261 cm Medium: Natural pigments on cotton fabric  A map of Mt. Shatrunjaya , Gujarat. The hanging is painted in the Pichwai tradition, depicting an elaborately detailed map of the Jain pilgrimage centre, the holy mountain of Shatrunjaya. Once a year this kind of topographical painting is displayed at a temple or other suitable location for devotees to worship. This serves as a surrogate for those unable to make the pilgrimage to the site itself.
Shatrunjay Pata / Tirth Pata Unknown; c.1820 Dimensions: L. 310 cm, W. 261 cm Medium: Natural pigments on cotton fabric  A map of Mt. Shatrunjaya , Gujarat. The hanging is painted in the Pichwai tradition, depicting an elaborately detailed map of the Jain pilgrimage centre, the holy mountain of Shatrunjaya. Once a year this kind of topographical painting is displayed at a temple or other suitable location for devotees to worship. This serves as a surrogate for those unable to make the pilgrimage to the site itself.

As part of the project, the MAP Academy has also developed a free, introductory online course on South Asian textiles, for a global audience, to further contextualise the enduring impact and relevance of textiles – addressing everything from fashion, the environment and global exchange. Understanding these broader contexts should add greater value to INTERWOVEN’S users, who can then use the platform to further recognise the extent to which technology can open up new possibilities for art historical research in the future.

Quotes:

Founding Trustee of MAP, Abhishek Poddar
Founding Trustee of MAP, Abhishek Poddar

Abhishek Poddar

Founder, MAP

“We’ve always wanted to be the museum for the future. And being in Bangalore, which is the tech capital of India, it’s only right that MAP aims to make itself the most technologically advanced museum in the country.”

MAP Director, Kamini Sawhney 
MAP Director, Kamini Sawhney 

Kamini Sawhney

Director, MAP

“Covid 19 and the lockdown really forced us to reflect on how people interacted with the online space. … Right from week 1, we began looking at how we could engage with our online communities … After the pandemic, a primary aspect of our mission is to use the digital realm to connect with people across the country, and the world.”

“We’re rethinking the idea of museums. They cannot be mere repositories of objects. MAP will not just be a collection of objects, but a space for ideas and conversations that are initiated through our collections. INTERWOVEN fits securely within this vision” 

MAP Academy Director, Nathaniel Gaskell
MAP Academy Director, Nathaniel Gaskell

Nathaniel Gaskell

Director, MAP Academy

"As a research-driven organisation, we typically work with what we might consider more ‘conventional’ art historical resources across libraries, museum collections and catalogues. What's so exciting about INTERWOVEN is that it provides us with a whole new way of accessing artworks and collections through Artificial Intelligence – this allows us to make associations, recognise patterns and trace potential narratives that we could easily overlook. We can then use these as starting points for academic research, and learn about objects, cultures, and ourselves in more imaginative and far-reaching ways. Although experimental, the potential this presents to us is exciting, and it's been amazing to be part of this pioneering new use of AI for the art and cultural sector."

Shrey Maurya

Managing Editor (Encyclopedia), MAP Academy

“Using a single object, a single raw material, a particular technique... with that as a starting point, the AI will assist them to find different threads of connectivity between objects. There is therefore great potential for a vast amount of discovery through a tool like INTERWOVEN … because you don’t see that when you’re looking at just one museum’s textile collection." 

Mandara Vishwanath

Project Manager, MAP Academy

“It was definitely interesting that something so tangible and visual like a textile object can reveal so much about the people that use these textiles or that have lived their lives around these textiles.”

Kate Irvin

Curator of Costumes and Textiles department at the RISD Museum

“I think INTERWOVEN will be really eye opening in terms of what [it] is able to offer us. … I see it as a really fascinating way to engage our audience ... [and] as a tool for this entire community.”

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