GLAMwiki Learning: Adding 700 Visual Artists’ Records to Getty and Citing Authority Data on Wikidata

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Actor and visual artist Bhaswati Basu posing in front of a portrait of her late father and artist Asim Basu — basic biographical data about the father-daughter duo were added to ULAN. (Image by Sangram Keshari Senapati / CC BY-4.0

Thanks to a collaboration with the Getty Research Institute, we at the O Foundation recently contributed nearly 700 Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) records about visual artists from the Indian state of Odisha. These records now make nearly one-third of the total number of name records from India — of both individuals and organizations.

In many parts of the majority world, including my home country, India, there is either dispersed or little effort to document biographical data about notable personalities, particularly visual artists. So, projects like Wikipedia that rely on authoritative data sources for such data have no or extremely poor coverage of artists outside of Western countries.

ULAN is an online directory for noted visual artists and architects. Each artist record contains details such as the artist’s name in different languages, sub-field of visual art/architecture, notable works, and their birth/death date. Availability of these records on ULAN not only has helped update the authority control on Wikidata, where ULAN is an accepted field, but also has opened the opportunity to create Wikipedia articles in the future.

Half of the artists’ names in this batch of ULAN updates come from an artist directory hosted by the Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi, a state institution from Odisha that studies and researches visual arts from the state. Rakesh Ratan Nath, a dear friend of mine, compiled and contributed these names.

I started working on this volunteer project almost a year back purely out of curiosity. I was teaching myself to query Wikidata using SPARQL, and I searched for a list of visual artists from Odisha. Unsurprisingly, the list was short. I reached out to Paribartana Mohanty, another visual artist and a friend from Odisha, who told me that Rakesh had created a database some years ago — he pointed me to the Akademi site. My first reaction after seeing the list was to include all the data in Wikidata. But there was one problem — the Akademi list merely contained artists’ names.

So, I did two things: I made a list of all the entries on visual artists and architects from Odisha from Wikidata and matched those records against the Akademi list. That helped create a consolidated list, with some containing Wikidata QIDs (entries), which is useful while building a database like this of the linked data and comprehensive architecture of Wikidata.

I was already in touch with the Getty Research Institute through the O Foundation, a non-profit I co-founded in 2017, along with a few fellow Wikimedians. When I presented the idea of adding ULAN records to colleagues from the Institute, they were forthcoming to work on ingesting, analyzing and creating new entries.

The Akademi list contained only artist’s names and did not itself provide anything beyond that. The Wikidata records, on the other hand, albeit only a few then, had additional details — names in Odia, the native writing system, and birth/death dates, among other essential details. The first thing I did was collate records from the Akademi list, including names matched with Wikidata, the ones that existed only on Wikidata, and some that did not exist in either place. Secondly, I added additional data such as names in Odia, gender, ethnicity, dates (birth/death), and nationality by searching for reliable sources online. When I formatted the records into a template the Institute shared with us after signing an agreement, I could see each record coming a long way from where I started. This data is publicly accessible and can be used by Wikidata and as authority control in Wikipedia in multiple languages and all other platforms connected with ULAN through linked data. On the one hand, I abhor a system of citing “notable sources” where notability criteria fail to consider informal and community-based memory institutions. On the other, it is a sheer loss and a gross erasure of notable people from widely viewed platforms.

Unfortunately, the number of citations and authority data is extremely poor for many visual artists from India and other countries from the majority world. As a result, despite being notable, it is often hard to contribute information about personalities on Wikidata and Wikipedia. GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum) institutions and many other civil society intermediaries often have the ability to bridge this gap by creating pathways for citable public data.

Updating these records has also opened up new avenues for collaboration — beginning with friends from the Santali Wikipedia community. R. Ashwani Banjan Murmu, an administrator there, has shown personal interest in inviting others from the community and slowly building records about Santal visual artists and architects. It is worth mentioning that there are only two records about two Santal artists on ULAN. A larger cross-section of the lack of missing cultural information is alarming, evidently the sheer knowledge gap and lack of ways for representation and participation of many communities.

What’s next?

Sangram Keshari Senapati, a fellow editor at the Odia Wikipedia, has created a dashboard querying Wikidata using the LiteriaBot that helps us track the data and the data gap. We see more data and citations every time we add more data to the Wikidata records and update the dashboard. Our plan is to organize an edit-a-thon and create articles on some of the artists now that we have two guaranteed citations — the Akademi list and the ULAN record.

This post originally appeared on the Creative Commons blog.

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