Alka Patel Archive: Afghanistan and Iran, Art and Architecture
The Alka Patel Archive comprises approximately 15,000 images of objects, buildings, and archaeological sites throughout South Asia (India and Pakistan), Iran, Afghanistan, and Cuba. These images are the outcome of Dr. Patel’s documentation and scholarly research during the last twenty years, and her collaboration with Dr. Maureen Burns, visual resources consultant and project manager, and a number of undergraduates and graduates for metadata research and entry. In her teaching and scholarship, Patel has consistently emphasized primary study of material culture, particularly of less-known artistic/architectural traditions. Given the uncertainty of access to many global regions where Patel has conducted fieldwork, she has pursued a wide chronological and geographical range of documentation. Dr. Patel believes that making well-researched images available to scholars and teachers is essential for a more thorough representation and understanding of understudied world regions and their histories.
Dr. Patel’s documentation of objects and architecture in Iran and Afghanistan results from her research on the Ghurid dynasty (c. 1149-1215), which originated in central Afghanistan, a region on the eastern peripheries of the Persianate cultural world dominated by the Saljuqs of Iran (late 10th-mid-12th centuries). Patel aimed to contextualize the Saljuq-Iranian heritage of the Ghurids in order to understand its adaptation not only in the Ghurid homelands but also in their eastern territories.
During Patel’s fieldwork in Iran, she focused on the material culture and built environment of the Saljuq through later Safavid (1501-1732) and early Qajar (19th century) periods. Emphasizing the multilayered landscape of Iran’s rich cultural history, in Isfahan, for example, Patel thoroughly documented its less studied Saljuq-era Congregational Mosque, as well as the famous Maidan-i Shah and Chehel Sutun Palace of the Safavid era.
In Afghanistan, Patel documented a wide range of the country’s deep cultural history, encompassing extensive and rare coverage of ancient Buddhist sites such as Mes Aynak, which is still under threat of destruction from copper mining and development. Patel’s archive also includes better known monuments of the Ghurid dynasty, such as the Great Mosque (Jami Masjid) of Herat, c. 1200 CE, and the few remains of the Ghurid mausoleum (the c.1200 original structure was largely replaced by a modern building in the 1940s). Patel also documented the remains of Herat’s iconic Musallah (destroyed in the mid-19th century), such as the mausoleum of the 15th-century Timurid queen Gawhar Shad and her family members, and the standing minarets of the Madrasa of Husain Baiqara.
Alka Patel is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and in the PhD Program for Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College and her PhD from Harvard University. Patel’s research has focused on South Asia and its connections with Iran and Central Asia, including overland and Indian Ocean maritime networks. She has also maintained an ongoing interest in the Islamic history of the Maghrib (Iberia and North Africa) and Islamicate diasporas in the New World, which afforded her the opportunity to document colonial architecture in Cuba.
Dr. Patel’s publications include Building Communities in Gujarat: Architecture and Society during the Twelfth-Fourteenth Centuries (Brill 2004), Communities and Commodities: Western India and the Indian Ocean, for which she was guest editor of a special issue of Ars Orientalis XXXIV (2004). Patel also guest-edited Archives of Asian Art LIX (2007), a special issue on reuse in South Asian visual culture. Patel’s interests have expanded to include mercantile networks and architectural patronage in modern South Asia, as evidenced in Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition (co-ed. K. Leonard, Brill 2012). Her recent volume India and Iran in the Longue Durée (Jordan Center for Persian Studies, 2017), co-edited with ancient Iranist Touraj Daryaee, resulted from an international conference convening a wide range of specialists analyzing Indo-Iranian connections over two millennia. Patel’s current book project on the Ghurids of Afghanistan and northern India is titled India, Iran and Empire: the Shansabānīs of Ghūr, ca. 1150-1215, underway with the support of the Getty Consortium Scholar Fellowship (2017-18).
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