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Monday, November 28 2022
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Microsoft and MAP now use AI to connect art and culture

Photo Credit : By Author

Bengaluru: Microsoft and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, today announced the launch of a new artificial intelligence-powered platform for connecting artworks and cultures around the world. The platform, 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.

Previous projects under the initiative have involved improving accessibility through the Open Access collection of 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 the first project under this initiative in India.

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.

Speaking at the launch, Kamini Sawhney, Director, MAP, said “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”

Rohini Srivathsa, National Technology Officer at Microsoft India, said, “INTERWOVEN is a project that is deeply impactful to society, culture, and heritage. The project interweaves technology with art, using AI to find shared histories in artistic traditions from different corners of the globe, particularly pertaining to something as rich and complex as textiles. Our approach to AI centers around meaningful innovation and this project beautifully allows art to be more accessible and inclusive for people around the world. We stay committed to using technology to help celebrate and preserve culture as part of our AI for Cultural Heritage initiative.”

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.

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, who are the knowledge partners of INTERWOVEN have been leading the research and curated content of the project along with Microsoft. The MAP Academy is a pioneering organization 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.

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 contextualize 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.

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.

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