Heritage Restoration

L to R: Girish Shahane, Tasneem Mehta, Ratish Nanda, and William Robinson in Mumbai on August 27, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)
L to R: Girish Shahane, Tasneem Mehta, Ratish Nanda, and William Robinson in Mumbai on August 27, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, 27 August 2014 — The Asia Society India Centre partnered with Christies to host a conversation between Tasneem Mehta, Managing Trustee and Honorary Director of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Ratish Nanda, Project Director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, William Robinson, Head of Islamic Art for Christies and moderator Girish Shahane, Artistic Director of the India Art Fair, to discuss the significance and challenges of restoration architecture in conserving cultural heritage.

The programme was initiated by the screening of two videos: the first showcased the restoration process at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai; while the second featured the restoration process at Humayun’s Tomb in Nizammudin, Delhi. Both the videos were highly insightful and intriguing; they captured labour at the grassroot level whose proficiency is essential for conserving antiquity architecture. The intricate craftsmanship required, as well as the slow bureaucratic process that needed to be overcome were all recorded in the short videos — providing an informative yet concise tribute to the success stories in India’s field of restoration architecture.

Following the screenings, Shahane opened the discussion by observing that the industry of restoration architecture exists as an “ecosystem of expertise” with public and private skills and stakeholders. In agreement, Mehta explained how conservation requires the craftsman’s skill, support and funding from the government and private bodies, and consent and initiative from the civil society. Mehta also highlighted the significance of incentives that are necessary be it while inculcating conservation into an education system, or while choosing to maintain a bungalow over a high-rise. By adding incentives for restoration we are adding value to the asset being restored — which fuels the economics of the restoration industry and helps keep it alive.

Ratish Nanda provided valuable perspectives, facts and insight about heritage restoration, particularly of Islamic art. He believes that “conservation is not anti-development, but can lead to development — only if it will add to the quality of life”. To go a step further than just beautifying an ancient masterpiece, Nanda suggests to reach out to communities by providing them with education and sanitation, stressing that “conservation will not uproot local living”. He also stated that the Archeological Survey of India has listed over 400 cites waiting to be excavated and restored. Yet, due to fragmented administrative processes these projects are being neglected. What is the cure to ignorance of one’s own culture?

As an art connoisseur, Robinson distinguished between art appreciation and art salvation. He considers the Antiquities Law as a stranglehold on trade and hopes to generate greater platforms for the art industry to flourish.

Reported by Tarini Ranadive, Intern, Asia Society India Centre

This programme is part of Asia Society India Centre's Rendezvous with Art & Culture series provides an intimate look into the issues which define the intersections between art and culture in Asia today. The series is generously sponsored by Christie’s, the world’s leading art business.

Video: Watch the complete programme (1 hr., 44 sec.)

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