Vesica Blog - Taking museum and art collections to the cloud

June 18, 2013

6 Survival Tips for Museums

With gloomy news for museums coming out last year ( and earlier this year ( along with some of our local museums ( shutting down, I figured it’s time to put a basic survival guide for museums – a how to, if you will, of conserving the funds you already have and perhaps getting the most out of them. Whilst some might say you have to work in a museum to give advice, I would challenge that, primarily because this is mostly common sense.

1. DO Fire your Social Media Manager

That’s right, if you have one (you almost certainly don’t need one), the first thing you should do is let him/her/them go.  Social media adds nothing to a museum or its image and over the years I have seen lots of talk in support of social media but ZERO results. It promises the engagement of a rather unproductive crowd which doesn’t really deliver anything. No one has been able to prove that spending £50,000 a year on a qualified social media marketing professional has generated even  half of that in visitor or store revenue – time to accept that social media is just about bloating our egos, not about running  a museum or a business. I’m waiting for someone to furnish evidence to change my opinion on this – so if you have some concrete numbers, please do share them.

2. DO Adopt the Cloud

Yes, you do not need to pay for client machines, servers, Microsoft office or a collections management system upfront. The world has come a long way, you need to evolve too. Try Google Apps ( or Microsoft Office 365 ( – you’ll be blown away by how much you can save. For Collections Management, try something like Vesica – (and here’s my only sales pitch to you). See how much you would save by switching – You’ll probably only spend a 10th of what you pay for traditional software and hardware – seriously – if banks can switch to the cloud, museums have no excuse.

3. DO Accept Free Help

I’ve seen this happen so many times – museums don’t have money or resources, they’re shutting down, but they’ll only accept cash in the form of help? What’s going on here? Beggars can’t be choosers – and money is generally earned (even donations are) – so whether you get free software, scanning equipment, space or volunteers – the goal should be to save the museum’s assets, not to run it the way you think is right, which brings me to my next point.

4. DO Care about the Museum, not Just your Career

Yes, please. When others see that you genuinely care about the museum and precious items it houses, people will give you money and help. All too often I’ve seen that nobody cares about making improvements – so if you could save £100k a year by doing 1 and 2 above – you should do it. Just because the Social Media manager is your friend does not mean you should bankrupt the museum and just because helping the museum save £50k a year by adopting the cloud will mean some planning and thinking more than you’d like to, doesn’t mean you should waste the £50k. Remember that if your vendors see you are dedicated, they will do all they can to help too.  And don’t say that you boosted Facebook fans by 5,000 by building a great Social Media Strategy – it means nothing to a struggling museum.

5. DON’T build an iPhone App

Or an Android or Windows App. Seriously – unless you can accomplish something with the app like increasing visitor footfall, increasing store sales and or just make the world a better place, don’t do it to build your CV with project management skills. Visitors who are interested in visiting the museum don’t want to do it with an iPhone App -an iPhone App can add nothing ground-breaking to a museum experience or do something to help it survive – save your cash and put it where it matters – in conservation or education or whatever your museum’s goal is. Same question as social media – when was the last time a museum built a mobile app that actually could be quantified into something positive for the museum? Never (not yet, anyway) – the iPhone demographic is just wrong for most museums.

6. DO Engage your Audience

Now that you’ve saved a ton of money – send some invitations to your local community and give them a guided tour of your museum. Inspire the community to share, conserve and participate. The power of heritage can be captivating when seen and felt in person, and real human contact does and will ALWAYS offer your visitor the real experience a museum should. This kind of engagement will create real value for your museum that social media or digitization never can. I can only tell you, for instance, that you can see as many detailed photos of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul that you want to, but no picture will ever have that impact that causes you to go ‘wow’ when you stand below that dome in person. That is priceless and people will come back for it.

July 28, 2011

Why Preserving Heritage is Paramount

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Asif N @ 2:23 pm

Stonehenge - British HeritageI’m often asked why it is that when I speak about preserving heritage or about possibilities with Vesica, I speak with such passion. The short answer is because I feel passionately about it. That’s difficult at times for some of my corporate friends (old and new) to understand, because during my career as a corporate employee, I was anything but passionate. I never really thought that being a great accountant or writing good software to help deliver some of the salaries that C level executives received was important (despite all the nonsense about corporate social responsibility they fed us), but I believe that saving our history and heritage is. If we, as a species, or as citizens of this planet, forget where we came from, we will never be able to assess the importance or morality of where we are headed.

And because I believe in preservation of heritage and history, at Vesica, our goal has been to make use of technology to help with this, directly or indirectly – and almost everything we do in terms of adding to the Vesica application is driven towards fulfilling this goal. So, why is it really all that important to save our heritage?

At the most basic level, so we can be grateful. Grateful for the things we have today; appreciative of how hard it must have been for those before us to make do without all that we have today; and aware of what we would need to recreate all that history has given us and taught us if we were to lose any of the so addictive dependencies (like technology) we have developed in the last century.

Unfortunately, despite the existence of museums, cultural and heritage organisations, this is already happening today. The number of things we take for granted today is virtually infinite. Take technology, for instance. As a software company, it is very easy to take the availability of computers, servers, the internet and application frameworks for granted. 25 years ago, none of this existed. 50 years ago, this was probably unfathomable. Does anyone ever stop to thank the genius’ of mathematics and science for what we have today – I doubt that the majority of people involved in this industry do.

Take this example to other trades – like sculpting or painting or carving or weaving or embroidery or farming or hunting. Some of the methods and techniques used in these skills are actually extinct. Others are endangered.

There is a reason why textiles and shawls weaved in India, Pakistan and Kashmir which are sold for less than £30 to some London dealers are sold in galleries here for over £1,500. This kind of trade has a good and a horrific side, but it is ultimately doing nothing to save skills like twill tapestry or embroidery from, say, the Hazara region. Let’s take a step back to analyze the leap in price from £30 to £1,500. Someone here appreciates that these hand-made textiles are truly invaluable – in them lies the skill and the effort that you won’t find in the £10 shawls that come out of China or the industrialized parts of the sub-continent. In a couple of decades, reverse engineering these few pieces may be the only way to learn these skills – and until we recognize the importance of this quality and the skill, we will not learn to appreciate our heritage and will perhaps feel that we’ve seriously lost out when China is just not able to manufacture and cater to the needs of the ever-growing human population.

Another example of lost knowledge, which more people may be familiar with, is at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The Moors figured out how to get water to run uphill in this palace in the 15th century. How easy do you think it is to do that today without an electric motor?

Some may ask why we need to save these skills. Let’s be honest, the things we make today suffer from extremely poor craftsmanship, low quality, synthetic materials and a serious lack of inherent value – and that’s because many of the things are cheap and are not formed with the labour of the craftman’s love. Do you seriously think that the works of Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock will last 600 years like the works of Michelangelo or Da Vinci. I doubt if they will, and truth be told, the works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci are probably far more valuable historically than Picasso or Pollock. Not that the latter don’t form part of Spanish and American heritage, respectively, but I think if we were to omit them from history, we probably wouldn’t lose much, in terms of skill or knowledge.

What we preserve is what we will be known by – and the skills, monuments and works that formulate mankind’s achievements and chart its progress over time must be documented and preserved. It’s not just a matter of the human legacy; it is a matter of progress and survival.

That’s why it is sometimes sad to see how much money is spent on modern exhibits that add no value or aesthetic beauty to the world, but simply focus on sales. The pursuit of such values and the lack of appreciation and effort toward preserving heritage and traditional arts leads me to believe that we may one day end up in the land of Idiocracy, not knowing where we came from, how we did or do things, or what we need to do any more. It’s a scary thought (or a comical one, if you’re a cynic), but it only serves us that saving our heritage is, in fact, paramount to our survival.

February 15, 2011

Painting Techniques Inspired by Ottoman Textiles

A workshop by Nausheen Sheikh


The Traditional Crafts are derived from the intertwining of wisdom (hikmah) and craftsmanship (fann or sinaah). Traditional textiles and costumes enable one to wander through the history of the world, from the rise of civilizations to the fall of empires, with a blend of diverse cultures, legends and religions.

Traditional textiles continue to resonate humble beauty and the substance of art is beauty and this is a Divine quality.

Join Nausheen Sheikh, Director of Research and Documentation – Islamic Art and Textiles at Vesica, for a workshop that will take you on a timeless journey through the history, techniques, symbolism and application of these Traditional textiles.

Traditional textiles are rich in pattern, colour and texture. This workshop will introduce students to the harmony of colours and an understanding of pattern created by Geometry and ‘Islimi’ – also known as the Arabesque – and the textural quality of textiles. This will be achieved through traditional painting techniques.

Expected Outcomes

  • To create a painted paper panel of a textile design inspired by the traditional textiles.
  • Design sketches and colour schemes inspired by traditional textiles.
  • Diary/sketchbook of the design process with stages and thoughts.
  • Textile design panel

Workshop Date, Time and Location

Date: Saturdays from 26 February to 19 March.

Timings: 10:30 am to 4:00 pm

Location: Office of Vesica Limited, 16-24 Underwood Street, London, N1 7JQ

Closest tube station: Old Street

Fees: £250 (materials included)

To Book call Vesica on 020 8133 8050 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

November 15, 2010

The Malpractice of Art Collecting

Last year, I made the conscious decision to move away from tempting but morally void allure of the corporate world. After having spent many years dealing with large corporates and their representatives, or with other businesses in general, with support from some great people, I turned towards the art industry. It seemed different – unlike the business world, the art world appeared to have some character and the people who were involved in the traditional arts (that was my primary exposure at the time) appeared to very passionate about their work. Finally, I was getting to know some people who actually cared about what they were doing and did it because they wanted to do it and enjoyed doing it.

“This would be a great bunch of people to work with,” I thought to myself. That was a while ago. As I have become involved with the museum and art collecting ‘industry’ over the last year or so, the true character of the art industry has become clearer. It appears that the majority of art collectors collect for the wrong reasons, the majority of contemporary, modern artists produce art for no reason at all (and if you can’t see this in most modern art then you’re either part of the former, present or the next group) and the majority of art consultants or galleries, and in many instances, museums, are motivated and involved with the arts for what, shall we say, is questionable motivation.

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by an art consultant (who is involved with some museums and a company that writes software for museums) who is starting an art consultancy to help collectors manage and ‘enhance’ their collections. Whilst I would personally disagree with this person’s approach to collecting art, they made it clear that art world did not, and does not, really care about the actual objects or pieces of art in a collection, or their symbolical or historical importance. The interest lies around acquisition information, insurance details, rights management, in which employee is responsible and what they can do to maximize cash and revenue from the collections they help collectors manage.

This is a part of Vesica which has been lowest on our list of priorities (and is currently being developed as part of a new, single submission driven interface). Our current focus so far has been on documenting the art collections – documenting for those who are passionate about their collections, understand the techniques, materials, symbolism and effort that goes into producing a great piece of collectible art – not this modern mumbo jumbo of let’s assign a value and compute our commission. We are, after all, talking about an art collection, not an art calculation.

The reason for this is simple: so far we’ve dealt directly with collectors who have little of no commercial motivation – they collect art because it speaks to them. These are the people who are not involved in the malpractice of art. However, there are hundreds of thousands of galleries, collectors and artists who are all involved with this industry for only commercial reasons – and that’s ruining the sanctity of art.

These are the politicians and bankers of the art world – they are corrupting the essence and practice of art – especially in Europe. They’re involved in the industry because it’s a status symbol – because being an artist is hip, because collecting art means you’re sophisticated, and being an art consultant or art gallery means you will affluent clients. But does anyone really understand what they are involved with or trying to sell. Do you really think most of these people know why some of Monet’s work is worth millions – other than the fact that he’s dead and it is what Pierce Brosnan was trying to steal in the Thomas Crown Affair? Not really, no. It’s all about the Hollywood effect.

So if you’re one of those artists drawing squiggly lines and asking the viewer to discover the abstract meaning of your blindingly painful insult to art, one of those collectors who’s collecting art from someone because they’re about to get a deal signed with Sotheby’s or Christie’s, or one of those art consultants who are so ignorant about the symbolism of an Indian miniature painting or the skill involved in proportionately well drawn portraits or illustrations, you are involved in adding to the corruption of the art world. You are essentially involved in what I consider to be the malpractice of art. I would even name government institutions in several countries promoting such malpractice, but because of laws pertaining to libel, at this point, I will not name any person, artist, consultant or government organization. Really, none of them deserve any credit.If the motivation is commercial or financial, you should go into the business world – not hide behind the ‘innocence’ or purity of art.

But there is one saving grace for the deserving artist, the passionate collector, and the art collection consultant (who really is more of an elaborate and personalized curator, in my opinion, as opposed to an art collection calculator as many of them are today). Some of the world’s most affluent art collectors are the ones who will not make the media; they really don’t care to. These are the collectors who have collections in their houses which are more valuable than what museums have on display; these are the collectors who know which artist has real skill; these are the collectors who know which consultant to go to for documentation, research and advice, these are the people who don’t really care about acquisition notes or rights management issues – and you won’t find any of them on LinkedIn or Facebook as art collectors. Why? Because for them it is a passion – it’s not how they try to do business or make a living.

Whilst I have every intention of having Vesica capable of supporting the business functions required to manage art collections from a commercial standpoint, I don’t ever want us to become a business involved in the malpractice, inflatable commercialisation or demoralisation of art or antiques. It’s just not the artistically humane thing to do.

September 23, 2010

Free online art shop revolutionises student art shows

Filed under: For Art's Sake,News — Tags: , , — vesica-press-releases @ 10:05 am

Vesica, a revolutionary new art management software, is set to transform the ability of art students to promote their work, by offering them a free web-based platform to show and sell their art.

The system, which has recently completed beta testing, has been designed to help art collectors, galleries, museums and artists themselves manage their art collections and share information around the globe. Vesica’s document – manage – market model is unique globally in the art world.

A key part of Vesica’s capabilities is the way it provides an online art gallery, enabling artists to show their work – and offer it for sale. The Vesica online gallery enables anyone, from a collector to a student, to list up to three pieces of art for sale in the online gallery, free of charge. Additional items may be listed for a modest charge, and Vesica’s commission structure for sales is set well below comparative costs for traditional galleries.

“By allowing artists and collectors alike to have a free listing of their art, we are revolutionising the way art can be shared, experienced and purchased around the globe,” says Asif Nawaz of software development firm VAFTA, who developed Vesica. “For the first time, students can list their pieces and expose them to a worldwide audience, without charge.”

Vesica was developed in response to a specific request for a system that would allow an art collection to be effectively catalogued and documented. For the first time ever, its online system allows a collection to be fully documented and managed, with the system retaining a high level of information and photographs.

Galleries and photographers can make use of Vesica’s online shop facility to list art for sale, making it visible to a worldwide audience. And for museums, galleries and private collectors, there is the opportunity to share highly detailed information on a discretionary basis with other professionals around the world; making the loaning of artwork and the staging of special exhibitions easier.

Vesica’s software format is universal. Developed as an online software system, it has a simple monthly subscription and is accessed via the internet, making it easy to use whatever computer a subscriber has. Updates and support are available immediately and a growing discussion forum will enable art topics to be discussed by interested individuals globally.

Vesica is also a carbon neutral system, hosted using solar powered servers located in California.

For further information, please contact the Vesica office on +44 (0) 20 8133 8050 or .

August 8, 2010

Art that’s Not Worth Documenting

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Tags: , , , — Asif N @ 1:27 pm

It’s not often that I feel the need to pick on artists, or describe how bad someone’s work is – I don’t think these artists or their work deserves any PR. I’m not an artist myself – certainly not a professional or talented one – but I do know when someone tries to pass of absurdity as art.

Very recently, I was barely able to control myself from writing about the somewhat disappointing exhibition at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (PSTA)  in London. Whilst I genuinely think PSTA used to aim for the right things and have great respect for the Prince and what he does – the quality of work has been declining. After all, the school is taking on a more commercial approach and as with all things that become about business, quality gets substituted for quantity. I hope Prince Charles is noticing that, even though it may not be high up on his list of things to fix.

There is some art, though, in London, which reflects on the poor taste and corruption of those who promote art in this city. I recently noticed, by mistake, the horrible piece of what I can only call a wall by Knut Henrikson at King’s Cross Station between the northbound and southbound Northern line platforms. How on God’s good earth is this thing a piece of art? Is it just me, or have the staff at Transport for London (TFL) and some of the seriously distasteful, modern ‘know it all’ art loving bloggers seriously gone blind. Here is a small preview of what TFL and some of our tasteless modern art ‘want to be’ cool collectors have been admiring:


Simply bad modern art

Now, where in the world does that strike you as a piece of art. Here is a definition of the word art from Merriam Webster:

“the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”

I’m not picking on Knut Henrikson; I am simply suggesting that people, whether in London, Paris or New York, seriously need to get their eyesight checked and need not think of art as cool simply because TFL promotes it to be or because collecting rubbish has become a ‘cool’ thing. Credit should be given where it is due. I can assure you that TFL is probably paying some intern to select junk that goes up across London as ‘art’. Do you really want to follow an intern or a bureaucrat who works at TFL? Seriously, if you are someone who appreciates art, surely you have more taste and better places to look for guidance than that.

Kudos to Henrikson’s dealer or PR consultant, though. You’ve all made the world a worse place and art a more degrading profession – only for ‘financial’ and ‘marketing’ reasons – just the kind of values fine art and its champions stand for.

June 13, 2010

Modern Art: The good, the bad and the ugly

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Tags: , , , , — Asif N @ 11:30 pm

Before I became involved with Vesica, I must admit that my interest in art was, well, quite limited. I must confess that I have heard one too many times about the modern geniuses of art – in the western world, they only have European art as we can’t trace the history back to much further than 700 years – we hit a brick wall called the dark ages. Nonetheless, for many years I wondered whether it was I who did not understand the genius of new upcoming artists, whether I was just too old at heart to only appreciate some of the traditional and classical stuff, or whether I was just not competent enough to understand what modern art was all about.

What I’ve never understood is that with everything else in life, we generally believe that simple is better. With contemporary or modern art, though, if you cannot understand it, it’s genius! I’m not sure who came up with that, but it may very well be just another scam. That’s not to say all contemporary art is bad; most of it is riddled with abstraction and squibbles of lines and paint that make no sense; many contemporary artists have to explain the piece of work they have created by retracing and explaining, in many cases, the monstrosities they have created.

Now because many of my dealings in working for Vesica have involved contact with art collectors and consultants who help such collectors put together their collections, I am sometimes baffled by the lack of foresight that goes into collecting this art. Most modern art today is painted on acryllic with synthetic paints – most of these won’t last half a century. What I’m not too sure about is why the new breed of collectors is obsessed with collecting this art. It may make for a good decorative piece or it may be a good gesture to support an emerging artist, but if you are going to overpay for a bunch of zig zag (and in many cases, nonsensical) lines to help an artist build his/her name, at least buy something that will last so that if the artist does indeed become successful, you and your heirs can benefit from the investment you made.

I suppose one of the dangers of contemporary and modern art is that those who collect it are generally not seasoned collectors – many of these collectors are the young, hip crowd that’s trying too hard to ‘understand’ art that is promoted by the majority of galleries in large, metropolitan cities around the world. Coming back full circle to the danger, a group of people who have no understanding of the subject of art are helping promote another group that’s just become invovled with the subject to make money.

I believe, and I may very well be wrong (after all you too are entitled to your opinion), if  a piece of art doesn’t speak to you when you first look at it, visually or spiritually, it’s just not worth collecting. Traditional art has a sense of perfection or passion about it; modern art is plain boring and hurts my eyes rather than pleasing them. It negates the purpose of collecting art.

I’m sure you have read about the recent event of the dynamite and bomb ‘art’ setting off police alarms and at the Pimlico Gallery in London- nothing about that was cool or representative of the fears of the 21st century in which we live. It was more like a high school prank – something modern artists have come to call ‘installations’.

Just as soon as I find a piece of modern art in the galleries of London that speaks to me, I’ll be sure to write good things about it. For now, unfortunately, I’m not seeing much good in most modern art. The bad is that those who are promoting and buying this art don’t really get what they’re buying. The ugly, the artist is also generally clueless.

Some day I will write about why modern art sucks – for now, I really, really want to give it a chance. If you can’t wait to see what I’ll write, here’s an article that you will surely enjoy reading by Jeff of High Concept Media in British Columbia, Canada: “Modern art sucks, and I’ll tell you why.”

May 31, 2010

Traditional Art vs Contemporary Art

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Tags: , — Asif N @ 9:53 pm

Since I became involved with the subject of art a few years ago, I’ve read quite a few articles from a variety of sources on the topics of both traditional and contemporary art. Whilst it is obvious that most people who write on this topic have done little or no research on the ethos or philosophy behind the 2 divisions of art, ultimately, it may very well be that the classification, like the beauty of a work of art, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

London in particular is driven by an obession with contemporary art – much of which is, unfortunately, quite overrated. I’m not saying that there is no good contemporary art (and we’re not referring to graphic design when I say contemporary art), but the English taste of appreciating the craft and skill of an artist is, I think, quite bland (like the food, perhaps?). I won’t name any artists or any art dealers who buy or create this art. That said, read what I am writing here with a grain of salt and note that not all contemporary art makes you contemporary or cool. Contemporary, like much of the rest of a city like London, is simply a word that represents a certain notion of facade that we have come to associate a little too much importance with. It is best to judge a piece of art by what went into it, what it says and what it communicates. Although appearance may start one’s relationship with a piece of art, the relationship will only become lasting if there is more behind the superficial appearance of any piece of work.

Getting on with our discussion, then. I have seen writers trace the roots of traditional art to the 12th century. Some attribute the origins of traditional art to renaissance – yet, others think that traditional art refers to the traditional forms of art, i.e. painting, drawing, pottery, etc. Truth is, and truth from my point of view, that all of the above definitions are based on people promoting their own agendas. Pro European writers like the sound of the word tradition and give credit for it to their roots. Craftsmen try to take hostage the essence of the word traditional for their benefit, but nobody ever discusses what it is that really defines traditional art.

If we take a step back in time, the Greeks were responsible for some traditional art. The Romans were responsible for some traditional Art. But with what little knowledge I have and research I have undertaken, the formal creation of traditional art was probably undertaken by Muslims. It was this effort that primarily defined the traditional arts on a larger scale – I’m sure there was and has been a major Jewish and Christian application too, but my knowledge on the subject is even more restricted there, so I will use Islamic examples to define traditional art. You see, traditional art, as it was back in the day, is also today known as sacred art by some. Ultimately, the goal of traditional art was to create ultimate beauty and harmony, that could only be attributed to God, through the heart, mind, hands and materials of a human being. Don’t mistake this for religious art – if you apply this principle to a mosque, perhaps the application become religious, but if you apply the same to your palace or to your home or to your painting, it becomes traditional art.

What this means, then, is that traditional art is built with a different purpose. The goal of a traditional piece of art is not to promote the artist or his ego (although this has to be done in the 21st centiry because everyone has to make a living) but to set aside an ego and build something of excellence – this can be anything – it’s just the intention and goal with which it is built that determines the classification. However, because traditional artists generally have to isolate the human ego, traditional art generally ends up being abstract and communicates a deeper meaning or a story. You’ll see this same common theme, whether you see a piece with a geometric pattern, calligraphy or the depiction of a scene. The focus is never one a particular person, the focus is on great detail in depicting something from God’s perfect creation. This is one of the reasons you won’t see a whole lot of portraits as part of the truly traditional art. You may very well see people in a variety of Indian and Persian miniature paintings, but they depict a scene in great detail and depth – they never focus on one person.

Contemporary Art, on the other hand, has quite a different purpose. It’s all about the artist and what he feels, thinks and wants. Contemporary art is a depiction of the artist unlike traditional art. This is why as part of many contemporary paintings you will see portraits – portraits of people that the artist admires or the artist painting portraits of those who want to be admired. Contemporary art today also includes a wide array of abstract paintings, from monstrosities to some that actually depict the state of mind, feeling or thought of an artist quite well.

Now I’m not here to say a piece of art has to be either contemporary or traditional – you also see fusion pieces where artists try to incorporate both the essence of traditional and contemporary art. Truth is, different art speaks different things to different people. Therefore, I think it is perhaps better to classify it at source – hence the definition as I see it above. Of course, the topic is always open to discussion for some and while it’s certainly open here, this is for now the way I see it.

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