Reviewed April 2020
Claralyn Burt, Academic-Year Graduate Intern
National Gallery of Art
Critical Collective fills an important space in the world of art history. Created by art curator and critic Gayatri Sinha, Critical Collective is a digital forum and aggregation of resources specifically focusing on the arts of India and South Asia. It is a subscription-based resource with some open access components. Beginning with its inception in 2011, the platform has coordinated with institutions across the globe to provide commentary on and to champion Indian visual arts. Though the visual culture of India has a long, rich, and varied history, Indian art history scholarship is relatively young, has its origins in colonialism, and is starting to go out of print. Critical Collective seeks to remedy this situation by providing one location for essays, critiques, and encyclopedic references and acting as a springboard into the visual arts of India.
Critical Collective is beautifully designed and has incredibly robust content. The website is divided into six main sections: the “Noticeboard”, which posts highlighted articles and recent trends in scholarship; “Art History,” which contains essays, critiques, and theories; “Museums,” a section designed to help museums navigate topics like decolonizing Indian art; “Cinema,” which focuses on essays, writing, and scholarship for the medium; “Special Projects” that span a variety of purposes including timelines, essays on gender, and debates on theory; and “Open Access” resources including databases of artists and curators, archives, lens-based practice series, and artist conversations.
Some technical features of the site could use improvement, especially related to images. For example, while the landing pages of each of the sections displays beautiful and engaging thumbnails, these may be causing technical issues such as slow site loading. On the other side of the spectrum, though the site is intuitively designed and easy to navigate, the lack of images and examples in the articles was noticeable—especially since they all center on the visual arts: once one clicks into the articles, one is greeted with a block of solid text.
In some cases, this is understandable, as the articles were previously published in other magazines or journals, and the images may not be available. In other cases, images simply did not seem to load: the reader was met with a broken image icon and the alt text. Considering that this resource is primarily accessed through a subscription, users may expect a more technically-robust experience.
Despite some technical shortcomings, the content of Critical Collective and its potential use in the field are manifold. The team at Critical Collective have done a marvelous job of telling the history of the visual arts in India and South Asia. There are essays on a range of topics from early Indian art to contemporary artists. There are exposés revolving around the themes of maritime trade, religious, or geographic influences. The database of artists is perhaps the most comprehensive available, listing more than 150 artists. Comparatively, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists available through Oxford Online lists around 150 South Asian and Indian artists. The coordination between curators of South Asian and Indian art from around the world is clearly evident on every page. Considering that traditionally this art and culture was viewed or taught through a colonialist lens, the fact that this site was created by and for Indian curators and art critics is of great value and essential to its success.
While the yearly subscription fee of $50 USD (INR 3,500, EU 41, GBP 40) for individual access or $210 USD (INR 15,000, EU 134, GBP 172) for group access of four emails (institutional subscriptions are dealt with individually, therefore no estimate is given) may seem expensive for a single platform, it is important to take into account the impact this tool could have in the field of art history. It takes time, resources, and labor to reclaim and deconstruct a colonial narrative, especially while past writings are disappearing from print. Critical Collective has the potential to be a crucial space for those who are interested in learning a basic, core foundation of the visual tradition in India or would like to participate in forums on contemporary Indian art history.