LAHORE: The National College of Arts (NCA) will soon launch a website of its archives, a repository of non-current records of the college dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, set up in 1998.

The collections include many treasures from the past including accounts of the Franco-British Exhibition held in 1908, correspondence related to Lord Curzon’s commission for brass lamps for the Taj Mahal in 1905, Bhai Ram Singh’s conference paper on woodcarving for the Indian Industrial Conference of 1909, governmental pamphlets and instructions circulated in connection with the First and Second World Wars and other such archival documents.

The collections contain both secondary and primary sources, including rare books and portfolios once part of the institution’s libraries, and primary sources from the early 20th century onwards consisting of correspondence, accounts, and other documents related to the administration and development of the institution and of art education in the region.

“The NCA has invested in mobile shelving for its archives, which has considerably increased storage capacity and capacity for the consolidation of our archival storage into one dedicated space. This has significantly decreased document retrieval time and made it possible to design more efficient environmental control solutions to the safekeeping of our collections,” says NCA Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Murtaza Jafri while talking to Dawn.

According to Mr Jaffri, the collections chronicle the illustrious history of the institution, once an integral part of the British Raj’s colonial apparatus and now a pioneer in Pakistan’s contemporary art scene. Archival evidence is from the pre-1947 times when the NCA was the Mayo School of Arts embroiled in the colonial politics and ideologies of the period, helping further the colonial project through its participation in imperial exhibitions and commissioned projects but at the same time providing a space for local artists and artisans to develop and hone their skills and ideas, he adds.

The VC says the primary sources include documents related to the day-to-day running of the Mayo School of Arts, correspondence and papers discussing South Asian arts and crafts, accounts of exhibitions and commissioned projects, as well as communications received by the institution and its staff members as part of a larger network of colonial institutions of the British Raj. From 1958 onwards, archival records indicate a more ‘modern’ outlook towards art and art education.

Since the spring of 2021, Mr Jafri says the NCA has initiated a redevelopment of the NCA archives, including a major overhaul of our storage facility and the full documentation and development of the college policies and guidelines. There is a plan for a dedicated website to be launched later this year along with a major publication documenting the NCA history.

“While providing improved stewardship and preservation to our collection, this project also aims to make our resources more accessible in order to enhance their use in research,” he adds.

According to Doa Sarmad Khan, in-charge NCA Archives Department, says parallel to the physical development of the archive, the major portion of archival collection have been digitized in line with international data preservation and metadata standards.

“Digitizing our collections was essential to keep the archives open for researchers during the Covid-19 by allowing digital access when physical access was impossible,” she adds.

Ms Khan says a major publication planned for later this year compiles a history of the NCA through a collection of thematic essays ranging from the institution’s earliest history to the evolution of pedagogies, physical spaces and experiences in more contemporary times.

This publication will be based primarily on archival research conducted at the NCA archives and it will provide a multifaceted account of the NCA’s role in the development of the arts in the country.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2022

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