Making art and the museum experience accessible is one of MAP’s primary objectives and technology is at its heart.
“We’ve always wanted to be a museum of the future. India’s youth are native technology users and MAP wants to harness it to showcase India’s cultural heritage and show that art can be fun and not elitist,” says Abhishek Poddar, the museum’s founder.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic derailed its plans of opening its doors to the public in 2020, MAP embraced digital solutions just as seamlessly as its prospective young audiences have technology.
Among the efforts the team took to engage with their online communities, is Museums Without Borders, a digital collaboration with its partner museums that eventually led to the creation of INTERWOVEN. MAP also launched the MAP Academy during this time, which is a major online platform consisting of an art encyclopedia and online courses, including one on the history of textiles in South Asia, which is also featured on INTERWOVEN for users who want to learn more.
“While INTERWOVEN began with an idea to explore MAP’s entire collection, we realized one of the artforms that spoke so eloquently to global connections was textiles,” says Kamini Sawhney, director of MAP.
MAP partnered with 16 other museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to connect their collections with the INTERWOVEN experience.
“We are thrilled to be a part of the INTERWOVEN project, led by Microsoft’s AI for Cultural Heritage program and the Museum of Art and Photography in India. It serves as a window into our magnificent collection, allowing people to connect with Cleaveland Museum of Art’s artwork visually, emotionally, or at a scholarly level. This project is a wonderful implementation of our Open Access collection” said Jane Alexander, chief digital information officer, the Cleveland Museum of Art. “We recognize that people may never visit Cleveland to experience our collection in person, this interactive tool allows visitors around the world to explore our remarkable collection in a way that offers deeper context and cultural insights, ultimately making art more relatable to them.”
Creative technologists from A_da, an experience innovation and design agency, helped devise the AI component and its deployment on INTERWOVEN. They deployed a mix of several Microsoft AI services to deliver rich connection results between MAP’s digital collection and open access collection pieces of its partner museums.
MAP’s digital collection has been codified using precise keywords, meta tags, and high-resolution photographs. The algorithm uses Azure AI Text Analytics to smartly parse through these keywords and Azure AI Custom Vision to help make visual and model comparisons.
Even though the algorithm is live, the creative team is simultaneously working on improving the visual detection by training the models to be able to identify visual elements like floral motifs to animal patterns to geometric shapes found in South Asian art.
Mandara Vishwanath, from the MAP Academy, continues to remain fascinated as she encounters various similarities in the style and aesthetics of textiles in different regions.
“For instance, we have many kalamkari textiles within India that feature stories and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These stories are also presented on block-printed cotton fabrics in South-East Asia. INTERWOVEN helped us observe the style differences between the textile paintings from India and the block printed fabrics found in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia,” she says.
For someone interested in the subject, all this information, categorized and contextualized, is packaged in a manner that is easily understood. For others, it’s an open canvas to curate their own journeys.
And even as you click from one artwork to another, crossing geographical boundaries and time periods, the thing that INTERWOVEN reminds you is that no matter what, beyond our differences, we’re all on a common journey connected by threads that you never knew existed.
Top Image: A Kashmiri artisan working on a shawl with the ‘paisley’ pattern (Isam Wani for Microsoft)