Lyla Halsted, Institute of Fine Arts
Lyla Halsted is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Davidson College with honors in Art History and her Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Art History where she also received a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. Her primary field of study is medieval Islamic art and architecture, with a secondary field in South Asian art. Her interests include materiality, networks of exchange, and digital art history.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Vijnaptipatras, or Jain invitation scrolls, became particularly popular in North Western India, in the regions of Gujarat. These paper scrolls, ranging from 12 to 50 feet in length, were sent from wealthy Jain merchants in cities to itinerant Jain monks. These monks were invited to cities for the monsoon season, bringing their blessings to the merchants and inhabitants of each city. The letters began with intricately painted scenes of the cities from which they originated, at times terminating with images of the monk in question in the context of the city, illustrating for him how he would look amongst its inhabitants who would welcome him warmly. The scrolls end with text that extends the formal invitation. Rarely published, these objects have remained relatively obscure in the field of art history, as their unwieldy forms and locations in private collections has isolated them from other painted traditions. Lyla’s project identifies a corpus of over 30 scrolls, digitizing them for the first time in an Omeka site through NYU hosting. Her site not only brings together metadata for the scrolls in one accessible location for the first time, but also includes interactive maps, produced via the Neatline plugins for Omeka. These maps organize the scrolls based on the monks they were addressed to, and the cities from which they were sent. Each map features several scrolls, with visualizations that trace their routes and destinations. Lyla also worked in collaboration with the Freer Sackler Galleries of Art in Washington to learn valuable visualization tools like image stitching that she was able to apply to one of the Vijnaptipatras. The photos and visualizations she generated and compiled are embedded into her Omeka site as well, producing a platform where one can access many aspects of the scrolls, including their routes of circulation, stitched images, three dimensional models, and bibliographic information. This project traces the circulation of these objects, while simultaneously seeking to underline their materiality and content via imaging and visualizations of not only their content, but also their form.