LAHORE: Artists and art educators argue that, because heritage conservation has never been a government priority, restoration and conservation of artworks should be taught as a discipline in visual art institutions and universities. Artists also underline the importance of sending artists on residency programmes abroad to master restoration and conservation techniques.

Salima Hashmi, a painter and art teacher, told Dawn that the department of archaeology often fails to conserve heritage and architectural monuments because it does not employ conservation architects and instead relies on their own competence, which lacks the necessary specialised training.

She cited the recent reconstruction of Chauburji as an example of bad workmanship, whereas the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s conservation of the Walled City and Lahore Fort is excellent. She claims that the conservation of paintings and papers has also been neglected at the Shakir Ali Museum and the Lahore Museum.

Ms Hashmi stated that INTACH trained conservators Mumtaz Husain and Uzma Usmani in Delhi about ten years ago. Mumtaz had completed 75% of the restoration of the famed Sadeqain mural at the Lahore Museum before his death this year. It now awaits the attention of museum authorities, who have not conducted a board of governors meeting in two years to address this and other urgent issues.

The federal and provincial governments do not provide professional conservation training for pieces of art located in various museums and collections. She stated that the museum, in partnership with the National College of Arts, could simply establish an art conservation section and send artists abroad for training. Conservation is a time-consuming process: The restoration of Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork “Last Supper in Milan” took 10 years. Similarly, Sadeqain’s ceiling took five years to complete, with two more years of labour required to reinstall it so that future generations might appreciate and admire the talent of this great artist.

An Italian conservator has promised to come to Lahore and work on the valuable piece of art.

Executive Director of Lahore Arts Council Zulfiqar Ali told Dawn that in 2016, the Lahore Arts Council organised a workshop in collaboration with the Danish government’s Centre for Culture and Development on “capacity building and knowledge transfer on the preventive preservation and basic conservation of art in Pakistan’.

He said many artists learnt the basics of restoration in the workshop, which was conducted by renowned professional art conservator Martin Benrsted.

Punjab University’s College of Art and Design Principal Sumera Jawad says that restoration and conservation of artworks should be taught as a separate subject in art institutions. She said that it is an important subject and that the old artworks could be preserved through different techniques.

Rahat Naveed Masud, an artist and former principal of the University of Punjab’s College of Art and Design, voiced concern that art conservation was not taught at art schools. She did, however, believe that this topic was directly related to museology and that museums should send their workers overseas for training and courses.

According to Dr. Riffat Dar, head of research at Lahore College Women’s University’s Centre for Art and Design, a course on this topic was offered in 2013, however it was optional. She underlined the significance of combining art institutions and museums in order to introduce this issue. She also noted the LAC workshop in 2016 and stated that similar workshops could be useful for basic training in this subject.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

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