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Nachiket Chanchani

Associate Professor, History of Art/Asian Languages and Cultures

Office Information:

70D Tappan Hall
Department of the History of Art
855 S. University Avenue
phone: 734.964.5400

Center for South Asian Studies; CSAS Faculty; GISC Faculty; Global Islamic Studies Center; Center for Southeast Asian Studies; CSEAS Faculty


PhD University of Pennsylvania, 2012

My interests span many mediums, regions, and time-periods.  

My first book, Mountain Temples and Temple Mountains: Architecture, Religion, and Nature in the Central Himalayas (Art History Publication Initiative and the Global South Asia Series, University of Washington Press, 2019) explicates how a remote mountainous landscape around the glacial sources of the Ganga River in the Central Himalayas was transformed into a region encoded with deep meaning and one approached by millions of Hindus as a primary locus of pilgrimage. From approximately the third century BCE up to the thirteenth century CE, scores of stone edifices and steles were erected in this landscape. Primarily spanning this epoch, my book project explores how—through their forms, locations, and interactions with the natural environment and with processes occurring within the context of social and political life—these lithic ensembles evoked mythic worlds, embedded historical memories in the topography, changed the mountain range’s appearance, and shifted its total semiotic effect.

As an extension of my interests in the sub-disciplines of architectural history and Himalayan art, I have guest edited a volume of Ars Orientalis which focus on the transmission of architectural knowledge in medieval India (jointly with Tamara Sears) and an issue of South Asian Studies that considers the historiography of Himalayan art history.

My current project, “Scrolling Forward,” builds on essays published in flagship journals. It theorizes strategies to account for the production, dissemination, and performance of the linguistically hybrid and profusely painted scrolls and manuscripts of western India. A recension of the Vasanta Vilasa, copied on an eleven-meter long cloth scroll in the Sultanate city of Ahmedabad in 1451 is the centerpiece of this project.

I remain interested in exploring relationships among and between art and yoga and in tracing the shadow of traditional Indian art, modern collections and the scholarship on them on the creative works of avant-garde Euro-American artists. Essays include “The Camera Work of Ananda Coomaraswamy and Alfred Stieglitz,” and “Some Reflections on Art Writing and Translation in Colonial India.”

I also remain committed to historical preservation and to the formulation and critique of cultural policy. Building on editorials published in The Hindu newspaper, I am currently developing a public-facing humanities project aimed at the documentation, interpretation, and ultimately conservation of a medieval landscape consisting of several hundred shrines built around the perimeter of an artificial lake in western India. Recently, I team-taught a dynamic new seminar on Law, Development, and Heritage Preservation in India at the Michigan Law School where I was appointed an adjunct professor.

As a Consulting Curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, I participated in the reconceptualization and reinstallation of their Asian art galleries. In the past, I have been involved with curatorial projects at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and other institutions

My research has been supported by fellowships awarded by the Asian Cultural Council, New York; Akshara Foundation, Ahmedabad; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin and other organizations.

I welcome inquiries from prospective students interested in pursuing higher studies in the history of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan art, architecture, and visual culture.