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. It presents Dr. Patel’s scholarly research of the last 20 years, and her collaboration with Dr. Maureen Burns, visual resources consultant and project manager, and a number of students for metadata research and entry. In her teaching and scholarship, Patel has emphasized primary study of material culture, particularly of less-known artistic/architectural traditions. Given the uncertainty of access to many regions where Patel has led fieldwork, she has pursued a wide chronological and geographical range of documentation. She believes that providing well-researched images to scholars and teachers is essential for a thorough understanding of understudied world regions.
Dr. Patel’s documentation in Iran and Afghanistan results from her research on the Ghurid dynasty (c. 1149-1215), which originated in central Afghanistan, 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.
In Iran, Patel 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 cultural history, in Isfahan, for example, Patel 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’s documentation encompassed extensive and rare coverage of ancient Buddhist sites such as Mes Aynak – still under threat 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 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 Timurid queen Gawhar Shad, 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 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), an issue on reuse in South Asian visual culture. Her interests have expanded to 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 by Touraj Daryaee, resulted from an conference analyzing Indo-Iranian connections over two millennia. Patel’s most recent book is Iran to India: The Shansabanis of Afghanistan, c. 1145–1190 CE (Edinburgh University Press 2021).
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