Sanjay Dhar’s on-site working conditions in India

Until the late 1980s in India, education in the conservation of cultural material was limited to on-the-job training of government employees in museums and similar institutions. I was among the trainees to join the first postgraduate diploma introduced at the National Museum, New Delhi. On completion, I then had an opportunity to assist in the setting up of a conservation laboratory for the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). My development as a professional and a student of conservation science is largely due to the range of challenges that a large and culturally diverse country like India has to offer.

Through the years, the damage and loss of beautiful wall paintings in India—the direct result of a lack of trained personnel, relevant professional institutions and understanding of the paintings’ technical diversity—was a source of personal anguish.

In 1995, my colleagues and I made a decision to develop expertise in wall painting conservation with a challenging project in Rajasthan, western India. Technical literature was scarce and the internet’s impact had not yet been realised. The slow and tortuous journey through this project helped in developing a team of dedicated professionals and a cautious methodology.

After a decade, I decided to launch the first private consultancy in the conservation of wall paintings in India with my first foray into Ladakh in the Himalayan region of North India. The wall paintings in Ladakh present multiple challenges, including logistical problems, an extreme environment and a poor understanding of the original materials and techniques of the spectacular paintings.

In 2009, I was presented with an opportunity to undertake a part-time PhD at The Courtauld Institute of Art as an Akzo Nobel Scholar. The Courtauld’s Conservation of Wall Painting Department has re-defined education and training in this field of conservation and has made a significant contribution to the way wall paintings are conserved today. I believe that my research on Assessing and Managing Risk: Himalayan Wall Paintings will make a material contribution to the manner in which Himalayan paintings are preserved for the future.

I am currently in the process of conducting technical studies to understand and develop the scope of imaging techniques for risk assessment at the sites identified for my case studies.

The opportunity of pursuing research at The Courtauld Institute of Art is literally a ‘dream come true’ thanks to the generous support of my donor.

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