The Alka Patel Archive
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.
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).
The Great Mosque, Herat, Afghanistan, 1200-1498. Image and data provided by Afghanistan (Alka Patel Archive). © 2011 Alka Patel
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. View the Afghanistan and Iran, Art and Architecture collection in the Artstor Digital Library.
Tomb of Isa Khan II, Sindh, Pakistan, c. 1644. Image and data provided by South Asia (Alka Patel Archive). © 1999 Alka Patel
Dr. Patel’s documentation throughout South Asia constitutes her most extensive collection of images, ranging from the ancient through modern periods of artistic and architectural production in Pakistan and India.
In Pakistan, Patel undertook thorough documentation of Gandharan Buddhist sites such as Takht-i Bahi (1st-5th centuries), as well as the rarely studied and endangered Hindu temples in the Salt Range and the Hissar Range (7th-10th centuries), straddling the modern provinces of West Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This documentation complements that of better-known sites such as the Congregational Mosque of Lahore of the Mughal period (c.1525-1858), and indeed the large necropolis near Thatta in Sindh, which counts monuments from the 14th through 18th centuries.
In India, Patel has documented sites ranging from Kashmir through the southern Deccan, with a particular emphasis on the temple and Islamic architecture of the 12th through 15th centuries, permitting analysis of the adaptation of temple building toward Islamic ritual architecture. View the South Asian Art and Architecture collection in the Artstor Digital Library.
Convent and Church of St. Francis, Guanabacoa, Cuba, 18th-19th century. Image and data provided by Cuba (Alka Patel Archive). © 2003 Alka Patel
Dr. Patel’s fieldwork and documentation in Havana, Cuba and its surrounding areas brings an important focus on the island’s colonial period (16th-19th centuries) and the latter’s inspiration of modern architecture in this architecturally and culturally rich city of the Americas. She documented a wide range of architectural types, spanning religious, residential and public architecture.
The elaborate woodwork in many churches, monasteries, and elite residences is unlike Cuba’s indigenous architectural traditions. Such remnants indicate the transplantation of artisans from Iberia, the heir of a long history of Islamicate artistic traditions ultimately utilized in creating a distinctive colonial architectural language on the island. Such practices continued in 19th-century structures such as the Church of St. Francis, signaling a greater longevity for these traditions in Cuba than in Iberia.
The later buildings served as vital links for some of Cuba’s modern architecture, such as the iconic 20th-century Hotel Nacional, which relied on the recognizably Maghribi geometric tile dados and intricate woodwork to evoke luxurious interiors for elite Cuban and other guests at the hotel during the island’s heyday as a holiday destination. View the Cuban Art and Architecture collection in the Artstor Digital Library.