The Museum of Art & Photography Bangalore embraces AI with open arms

The art and technology merge has redefined the traditional methods and artists influenced to create, showcase as well as sell art to a global audience. Now, big tech companies are looking to make it accessible to all.

Last week, Microsoft AI for Culture Heritage initiative collaborated with The Museum of Art & Photography in Bangalore, India, to launch INTERWOVEN, an AI-based platform technology to find previously unknown links, common themes and shared history between South Asian textiles and textiles- related artworks to the world. This is the first project under Microsoft’s initiative in India.

AI unifying culture and traditions

During the pandemic, the museum tapped into online exhibitions, making it one of India’s first digital museums. The positive public response led to the creation of INTERWOVEN.

The president and vice-chairperson of Microsoft, Brad Smith, said INTERWOVEN reminds us of the vibrant diversification of cultures and the way traditions are shared in a conversation across time and place.

The platform uses Microsoft’s Azure Custom Vision and AI Text Analytics services to connect artworks found in MAP’s collection to others. The platform helps to find networks at MAP and in global partner institutions like the V&A in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The artworks are from different cultures and mediums from across the globe.

Also read: India’s quest to digitise its museums

Understanding the technology

Powered by Microsoft AI, computer vision and text recognition software, it helps distil images and descriptions of artworks into a massive database. A machine learning algorithm parses the digitized information to discern fine patterns that link seemingly disparate works of art. As new collections are added to INTERWOVEN over time, the database and connections will continue to grow.

The Computer Vision uses a pre-built model created and maintained by Microsoft. The service allows you to build and train your model dedicated to a given image domain. In addition, it gives users access to advanced algorithms that process images and return information based on visual features.

Furthermore, the Text Analytics API is a cloud-based service that provides Natural Language Processing (NLP) text mining and analysis features. It includes sentiment analysis, opinion mining, key phrase extraction, language detection, and named entity recognition.

The platform provides two ways for the users to explore the artwork online. The first (Curated Journeys) allows the user to view predefined journeys curated by researchers and specialists at MAP Academy. The Curators further research the connections suggested by the AI. The journey, starting with one artwork from MAP, crisscrosses mediums and eras for the user to arrive at unexpected points in art history.

The second option (Custom Journeys) lets the user explore the platform and stumble upon connections from different eras and institutions.

This technology-led approach aims to inspire ways of engaging with art history and visual culture combined with human-centric storytelling.

Through boundaries and eras in a click

In 2019, Microsoft announced AI for Cultural Heritage, a 125 million dollar five-year plan to use AI to raise concerns around cultural identity and heritage.

The previous work under this initiative includes:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MIT collaboration in New York to make The Met’s Open Access collection accessible, discoverable and useful using AI
  • At the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Paris, Microsoft partnered with two French companies to create a new museum experience with mixed reality and AI that paid homage to Mont-Saint-Michel, a French cultural icon
  • In southwestern Mexico, there is an ongoing effort to capture and translate Yucatec Maya and Querétaro Otomi using AI to preserve and make them more accessible to people globally
  • The Museum of Art & Photography (MAP, launched in 2020) and its educational platform, The MAP Academy (launched in 2022), by collector Abhishek Poddar, an Indian industrialist

According to Poddar, the aim is to show the audience that art is fun, not elicit, and for everyone.

Big tech focus on art & culture

The WIPRO foundation, in addition to MAP. supported the development of The Bangalore International Center (BIC), inaugurated by Former President of India, late Abdul Kalam, to strengthen the conversation about cultures, religions, regions, societies, and developed. In 2019, BIC completed the construction of 48,000 square feet GRIHA compliant premises.

Similarly, through its Google Art & Culture initiative, the company works with cultural institutions and artists around the world to showcase cultural treasures. The platform is a treasure trove of India-based content.

“We’ve always wanted to be the museum for the future, experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what technology can do in the museum space—not for its own sake, but as a meaningful tool for improving access and enhancing cultural experiences,” said Abhishek Poddar, founder & trustee, Museum of Art & Photography (MAP).

As a part of the initiative, the MAP Academy, the knowledge partner, offers a free online course on South Asian textiles for the global audience. The introductory course covers several topics, including global trade and art techniques. It is an entry point to understanding the spread of culture.

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