Recording & Transcript - INCCA Talk: Challenges in Conservation of Contemporary Art Works in India

Posted on Mon, 04/24/2023 - 09:57
INCCA Talk India

Thank you all for joining the INCCA: Talk: Challenges in Conservation of Contemporary Art Works in India on the 20th of April.

Below you can find the transcript and recording of the Café and feel free to let us know what you think!


TANUSHREE:  We will take a minute or two, so we have everybody here.  So, I think let's give us one more minute and then we will start with the event.  All right.  Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, everyone.  I'm Tanushree Gupta from the Institute of Conservation at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.  As a Steering Committee member of INCCA, I welcome you all to today's event.  As you all may have noticed, you're on mute by default.  This is done for firstly just to cut the background noise that could come accidentally.

It is my duty to inform you that this meeting is being recorded.  There will be one screenshot made during the beginning of the presentation.  So, this recording and this screenshot can go also online for wider viewing later.  If you wish not to appear on the digital platform through this recording or screenshot, I would request you to please change your name or to turn off your video.

The presentation will take around 30 to 40 minutes and there is a possibility to engage in discussions and questions and answers.  There are two ways how we can interact with the speakers.  First if you can put your questions in the chat box, while the presentation is going on.  The second is that you can also mention that you want to ask the questions directly.  So, we don't break the order of the presentation and we don't disturb the presentation when it’s running, we would be glad if you could take the questions at the end.  I hope that would be okay with everyone.

I would like to quickly introduce you to INCCA.  So, INCCA is the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art and INCCA members is a group of conservators who are developing to preserving knowledge needed for the conservation of modern and contemporary art.  So, INCCA is a network of like‑minded professionals connected to the conservation of modern and contemporary art.  Among many activities that INCCA does is INCCA talks, which is a series of conversations and panels exploring current issues in contemporary art conservation and related themes.  They include book talks where authors discuss their books and case studies, like we're doing today.  The INCCA Talks are free of charge and they take place online via Zoom.

About this topic, this is Challenges in Conservation of Contemporary Art Works in India.  As we all know, with contemporary art, we have new materials, different materials, and a wide variety of materials. With the artist we have new ideas and the rules and regulations of how the art should be are as important as the ideas and its production.  So, the conservators eventually have a lot of challenges because the paintings are not coming in a traditional setting, but they can be anything which comes from the new ideas and the new materials.

Everywhere people, the challenge that it brings in conservation is something that everybody everywhere is dealing with.  Today, we have the opportunity to hear it from two conservators from India, from the organisation called INTACH. 

So, INTACH is the Indian National Trust for Indian Art and Cultural Heritage.  It is based in New Delhi with a vision to spread heritage awareness and conservation in India.  INTACH is recognised all over the world and has 190 chapters across the country.  With this, I come to the speakers of the day.  We have Merrin Anil with us who is an art conservator at INTACH Delhi.  Merrin is working with the INTACH Conservation Institute as the Centre Co‑ordinator.  She's been associated with the INTACH Art and Material Heritage Division since 2013.  She has a bachelor’s degree in history honours from the University of Delhi and a master’s degree in art conservation from the National Institute of History of Art Conservation and Museology based in New Delhi.

She was awarded the Indian Conservation Fellowship in 2017,

Where she worked with polychrome sculptures at SRAL (Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg) in Maastricht.

She has coordinated many wall painting conservation projects, including wall paintings in Kirti Mandir, Gujarat, executed by Nandlal Bose, an eminent Indian artist, as well as the conservation of museum objects in the collection

of the Museum of Christian Art, Goa.  At ICI INTACH, she is involved with the conservation of 3D objects and paintings.

Our second speaker for the today is Subrata Sen.  He is also an art conservator and senior co‑ordinator at INTACH Delhi.

Mr Subrata Sen is presently working with the INTACH Conservation Institute as a Senior Coordinator.  He has been associated with the INTACH Art and Material Heritage Division since 2008.  He holds a bachelor's degree in Fine arts, specialising in sculpture, from Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyala, Khairagarh, CG and a master’s degree in art Conservation from the National Museum Institute.

He was also awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust Conservation Scholarship in 2010‑2011, where he did his internship at the British Museum (Stone, Wall Paintings, and Mosaics Conservation Studio).  He has coordinated many wall painting conservation projects in Ladhak as well as the restoration of the Flora Fountain in Mumbai.

At ICI INTACH, he predominantly works with 3D objects,

especially contemporary art works, including sculptures, paintings, installations, etc.

With this, I would like to invite Merrin Anil and Subrata Sen to take the floor and lead us through the presentation and show us how contemporary art is being conserved in India.

MERRIN:  I want to thank INCCA for giving us an opportunity and a platform to showcase our work.  Mr Subrata Sen is not physically present next to me, but he is there somewhere in the chat box.  He's there.  So, most of the work was done by Mr Subrata Sen and some of the conservators that work with INTACH were also involved in the projects.  I'm just a speaker who is narrating the story, but I have worked with some of the objects.  Basically, I would start my presentation with a brief of INTACH.  I will add on to what it all came together.  INTACH stands for International Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and was founded in 1984 in New Delhi.  The basic idea was INTACH was to have heritage awareness and to develop the idea of conservation in India.  We're not limited to conservation efforts in the field of art and cultural heritage, we are also working in the field of architecture heritage, natural heritage.  We also work for spreading awareness through conducting seminars, workshops for schoolchildren so that children are aware of their heritage, they can take care of their heritage, so there are frequent lab visits, site visits, there are a numerous number of heritage walks initiated by INTACH.  So, all efforts are out there to protect tangible, intangible cultural heritage across India.  So, all of this is possible with the chapters, which is spread across India, around 190 chapters are there of INTACH, in every state, every district there is a chapter which is working towards this vision of conserving heritage and creating awareness in the field of heritage conservation.

So, when we talk about my division or the division, I work for that is INTACH Conservation Institutes.  We are the Art and Material Heritage Division.  We have mainly four INTACH conservation institutions, which look over the conservation work around the country, so we get objects from different parts, different parts of the country.  So, in our Lucknow centre, it mainly looks after the conservation of paper, manuscripts, paintings, prints and photographs.  For the Delhi s we have a mixed variety of objects like conservation of oil paintings, prints, photographs, textiles t 3D objects, even our staff our sent out to different locations all over India, wherever our paintings are there, even some of the museums which cannot afford to send their objects here, we would set up a lab space or institute for the museums or for the organisations who want us to take care of their conservation needs.  We have the Bangalore centre that works on conservation of traditional Indian paintings and wooden sculptures.  The Bhubaneshwar centre looks after palm leaf manuscripts.

Right now, I'm sitting in my lab space.  My colleagues are walking around through the presentation.  This is how our lab looks like.  This is where most of the conservation happens.  So, basically when we talk about the objects of INTACH Conservation Institutes, it is to provide training and professional help towards conservation needs for art and heritage collections.  It is to preserve heritage for future generations and to provide the unmatched services in conservation for art collectors, and to provide unmatched services in conservation for art collectors, to spread concern for heritage conservation, and also to have training and workshops so we can train more and more people and create awareness among conservators and students who are interested in this field.

So, now moving on to the main part of this presentation, which is the challenges which we face while we conserve modern or contemporary art objects in our lab.  So the main challenge is, like, we get a lot of mixed media objects, mixed media materials which are put together.  An object will be received in our centre.  Sometimes it is very challenge because we don't understand what isthe intent of the artist is It might be just a simple sculpture or looking very simple to the eye, but there would be a complex meaning that the artist had thought about and he must have put it together in such a way that only the person who is looking at it can understand that meaning.  So, that kind of aspects has to be very delicately preserved so that is one of the challenges which we often face.  Through the presentations and through my case studies, I will be able to elaborate more on how and why it happens and why it is a challenge. 

So, the first case study being this sculpture, we received at our lab.  Looking at the face portion of the sculpture, you can see that half of it is missing and half of it is there.  This was brought in by a private client.  The client told us that there was a fire accident at her place and due to the fire accident, most of the artworks which she has displayed in her house had got affected.  Some of her personal belongings also got destroyed.  This was brought to us, she actually sent us this photograph initially and told us this has happened in her place.  Looking at the photographs, I will just take it forward.  These were the photographs she had sent to us.  Looking at the photographs, we were not very sure, like, is it because of the fire that half of the portion has been melted away.  Was there any physical damage to the object?  What had happened?  We were not able to figure out.  So then we asked her if they could share with us, so this is how it looked in the back portion, and it was another portion, there were losses of materials from the shoulder e from the torso as well as from the limbs.  There was a loss of material from the back side also.  It is not, it is very uneven.  It's not, like, in a particular area there is nothing.  It is like there is something on some portions and the leg portions there is some material there where something is lost from there.  It is very puzzling for us, like what is the reason there are some losses somewhere and something else is intact somewhere. 

Most of the objects come into the lab and we have a lot of mixed groups of people working here, so some are artists, and some are from a science background, and some are from the history background, so everyone has their inputs.  We had got a lot of our ideas that something must have fallen on it. 

We requested the client to share an image with us prior to the accident.  So, this was shared to us.  This is how the artist had intended the object to be looking like.  Like, this was their intention.  This was originally how it was made. This is how it looked.

Then we realised what we were thinking were losses was not losses and it was the original idea of the artist, he wanted to create a form in such a way in had certain kind of elements which were missing to the original construction itself.

So, after the fire, when this object was brought to us, we could see that there were some of the areas that had loss in the form of material.  This is basically the material which was used for making the sculpture polyester resin‑based material which was stuck to the armature made of iron.  There was some rusting of the armature and losses of the polyester resin.  There was soot deposit on the face and body of the object.  So the initial conservation aspect we did was cleaning of the soot deposits so we can identify clearly what is lost and what is the original tone of the object given by the artist.  It was something similar to the ashy look of the fire accident.  So, it was also somewhat concerning for us because then we were also very cautious that we shouldn't over clean the object in such a way that the essence or the original tone of the artist is hindered or removed in any way.  We just removed it mechanically.  Solvent cleaning was done to remove the grime, mostly water was used, water‑based solvents were used to remove the soot deposits and grime.

And then, the filling was done for these areas which had losses, like where there was chipping, we could evidently see where there were losses.  This was done to give support to those areas wherever there were losses.  The filling was done polyester resin‑based material itself.  This is after the conservation.  So, to preserve the essence of how the artist intended to make the object, which was our main concern or challenge for this object.  This is how we achieved it at the end. 

We have a similar case study, and this is from the same client.  So, this object was a victim of the fire accidents too. This is a mixed media object.  This was just placed below the air conditioning in her house.  When the fire happened, the air conditioning started melting and it got deposited on the body of the painting.  So, when this was brought in and we were, like, sure, sure, this is how the artist has thought this object should look like and whatever is sticking out from the body of the object, that is part of the object itself, that was what we initially thought.  And then the client came in and she told us, no, this is the air conditioning which had melted and got stuck to the painting.  And that is then, we had a realisation this is not the original way the painting should have been looking like.  Then we thought out what the conservation plan should be.  The idea was to remove these plastic pieces which were adhered to the body of the paintings.  It was so difficult because of the fire also.  So, you can see there was spots of soot which accumulated on the painting.  There were pieces of plastic which were sticking to the side of the canvas and on the front portion of the painting.

So, the soot was removed from the object using a sponge, as well as solvents that were used to remove ingrained soot and deposits from the surface of the object.  A solvent was used to melt the plastic.  We had done testing for before doing this.  We tested it and it was not sensitive for the paint layer.  So, that was used for removing it from the canvas.  This is how the painting came out after removing those pieces of plastic.  So there was some losses in the area where the plastic was adhered to.  And once this was removed, the flat pieces of plastic were removed, we consolidated the paint layer around the re‑integration of losses were done.

So, this is the after-conservation photograph.

Now, we have another sculpture which came to us.  For us, the initial two objects had the challenge of understanding what is the original and what is not original to the object itself.  In this particular case, the most challenging aspect was to maintain the structural integrity of the object.  So, this is a sculpture which was made by a famous Indian artist.  His name is Sadananad Bakre.  Unfortunately, the sculptor was not alive when we received this object.  He died in 2007.  I think this object was received in somewhere in 2014, or during that time period.

When we got this object, this actually came twice in our lab.  This object was received twice in our lab.  The main problem with this is the construction is so fragile, that very thin basically thin copper and iron has been used for making the sculpture.  Very thin wires of thin iron rods have been used to stick it together.  The artistic expression or the intent the artist had was not very ‑‑ it is not something which we can really make out what it meant or where the parts should be.  There were some of the pieces which had completely come apart from the object.  This was received by us separately.  The client has given it separately to us.  These were the rods which he had in his ownership.  He had an idea of how or where it had to be placed because he had some images.  He discussed it the conservator that this is how this object should look like.  So, that was the idea which we build upon and we thought of the conservation plan based on the ideas and inputs given by the client.

First step was to clean all the rust and the dust layer on it.  It had a thick layer of dust.  As well there was rusting of the iron materials.  There were also stains on it which had accumulated on the surface of the object.  The first aspect was to clean it completely and to derust all of the other problems of staining and rusting.  Once the rusting and staining and everything was removed, this was the drawing which was given to us by the client and he has given us an idea that this portion has been joined this or there, so he marked it for us and he showed us this is what has to be joined and this piece will go there.  That was given to us.  Based on that, we welded together those pieces which were to be put together.  This is how the object looked at the end.  We also added supportive cases to it.  We also gave casing to it because we had a discussion with the client and the client was, he has brought this particular object twice to us.  The problem with this object is because of the thin construction of the materials used, the construction is in such a form that it is not very stable.  Nothing else can be done or nothing else can be added to stabilise it.  To maintain and preserve the idea of the artist itself, it has to be displayed in the same way.  We decided it was kept in an open area where there would be a lot of movement.  At one time, there was some accident while someone was passing through and they knocked it down and all of the weldings had got loose.  It fell down and the welded areas, they got disturbed.  They started loosening up and that's how it came to this level of what you see where the pieces got separated and everything.

So, then this problem was recurring.  To address this particular concern, the client had regarding the safety of displaying it, we advised him that we can ‑‑ we suggested we can give it a casing and so that when we feels he can add the casing to it and he can display it in a secure area, with the casing, without having to worry about a lot of movement happening to the object and it would not hinder the visual or aesthetic appearance of the object.  The base was not quite stable.  We added a casing to the base.  He can lift off the acrylic casing if he wants to display it out in the open.  Otherwise, he can put it with the acrylic casing and protect it from tumbling over or falling over.  That was advised to the client, and he thought it was a good approach, so he we made a custom‑made casing for this with acrylic sheets.  This is how the object went.

So, the final object is a very interesting object, and this is one of the objects which we had recently complete standard.  So, the artist is a very famous Indian artist, and his name is Devi Prasad Roy Chowdary.  So, he has also made some of the famous Indian artworks like the Garam Muti was made by Devi Prasad Roy Chowdary, which is in a prime location in New Delhi.  It is a life‑sized sculpture of Gandhi G and the non‑violence movement in India.  He had sculptures made out of bronze and clay and other materials have been used by this artist, so a wide range of materials have been used by this artist throughout his lifetime.  Most of his sculptures were having a revolutionary idea, which accord with the emotions of the general public.  So, those were some of his very interesting sculptures.  It is all over India and in different states in India, you can see their sculptures.

Devi Prasad Roy Chowdary's initials were there, and the client had mentioned that he has brought it from one of the catalogues when his exhibition was there when he was alive.  So, this particular object was received in this condition, as you can see.  You can see there are two bases.  We were not sure whether it is the base or what it is. You can see two circular objects.  We can see four faces.  There were some pieces which we have received.  It is more than 30 pieces you can see.  That is also one of the face.  There are basically five faces and a base.  That is what we thought.  This is what we got to know about the object when we received it.  This is a low fired terracotta object.  It came for conservation.  It was in a fragile condition because one of the faces was completely disintegrated.  It was a cleaning incident that went really well.  The help in the client's house tried to clean it and she knocked it over and it fell.  One of the faces completely shattered and the other faces, the joining was opened up, and they got separated.

So, you can see the detailed photographs of the faces.  So, all of the faces have a different story to it.  Some look grumpy, some look happy, some has an expression of wonder on them.  We were also wondering by both of these small circular pieces, where is it supposed to be?  We could figure out they are joined from ear to ear, but where is this big circle, the heavy circle material piece has to be?  And the one with the hole in there, where does that have to go?  That was also puzzling for us.  We requested to the client to give us an idea, at least a photograph.  He had a bit of trouble figuring out where the photograph was.  It took us a bit of time in finding it.  He took a bit of time in finding that.  Meanwhile, we thought we will not waste any time and go ahead with the conservation portion.  We joined one of the faces which was completely disintegrated.  And then we, like, had a jigsaw moment.  We put all of the pieces together and what is fitting where.  We joined the faces together.  We got to know, okay, there is a loop of faces, that is how it is going to be.

Once it was fixed, this is how it looked.  It had a really thick coat of dust and dirt layer.  It was stored somewhere in the store and there was a lot of dust and dirt layer here.  This is during cleaning.  Steam cleaning was done for this particular sculpture.  And then, he gave us a heavy piece of the heavy circle that this has to be on the head of this object.  And then he came out with a surprise, he told us this is supposed to be a pedestal for this fat owl here.  That was really shocking for us!  We were not expecting something like this.  We thought that is the faces and there's a crown to it and that's the object.  He said no, no, it is not like that, there's an owl which is supposed to sit on that.  This face is supposed to be the pedestal or the stand of the owl.  The owl had a little small, tiny frog next to his feet so that is how this is supposed to be.  So, we were completely bewildered by this discovery because this owl is really heavy and he's like 2.5 feet, two point five feet, that's how high this owl was and he's, like, really heavy.  Now we were struggling to understand how to put it together because it weighed so much and the faces are so delicate that if you tried to place it directly on top of the object, that whatever we have joined together would start crumbling and disintegrating.

So then we came up with an idea and we told them we can make an auxiliary support that would be a base which would have a wooden support in between, which can go in between the faces and sit and take the load of the base, which is very level, and also the owl and the other figure.  It acts as additional support and would not let the weight go on directly on the faces, it will kind of give an even distribution regarding the weight.  The main concern was that such kind of support shouldn't be put in where it should stand out or it would look very odd to the objects.  We didn't want to give a metal support because that would not be very compatible, it could rust.  Even if you add protective layers, it could rust or have more problems.  We thought it would be more heavier possibly and the costing would not be favourable.  There would be problems regarding that also.  So, to make it light as well as to maintain the aesthetic value of the object, we thought of giving a wooden support which could very well take the weight of the object as well as look more compatible aesthetically for the object and that's how the object came together at the end.

So, I think we are on time.  By that, we come towards the end.  We have a lot of time for questions!

TANUSHREE:  Thank you, Merrin, for this wonderful presentation.  Very rich in content.  Now, I'm also curious if you receive such objects on a regular basis or this is only once in a while that you have such challenging objects in your lab.

MERRIN:  It happens on a regular basis.

TANUSHREE:  So not only in conservation but also in solving the puzzles.

MERRIN:  We also had an object that came in 2014 or 2015, it was like a reclining Buddha.  There is a case study which is already on the INTACH's YouTube handle.  It was a religious piece or something like that.  It was crumbled.  That object was being transported from the client's location to somewhere else and then there was an accident, it fell and it crumbled into many pieces.  So, it took us a lot of time in figuring out what will go where and how to maintain the aesthetic value as well as to ‑‑ it is like a tedious job to put together all of the pieces.  But it's good fun to work with such kind of materials because you develop a lot of patience!  It's a challenge but you develop a lot of patience within yourself.

TANUSHREE:  I think this is something I would say true for all of the conservators out there, because I think this challenge is also our motivation somehow.  Thank you once again, Merrin.  With this, I open it to the floor to questions and answers and discussions.  I would request everybody who is hear, if you have any questions, please feel free to put that in the chat.  You can also just let us know in the chat if you want to ask somebody directly and I will unmute you and you can do so.  To begin with, I think Pip has a question.  Before this, Merrin, I think it would be better if we stop sharing the screen so we can see all of us.  Wonderful!  So, Pip, would you like to go ahead with your question?

PIP:  Absolutely.  Hello, Merrin.  That was a fantastic talk!  Thank you so much for sharing all of those great case studies.  I noticed in your examples that the artists weren't very involved in the treatments.  I wonder if that's unusual in your practice and whether there's a difference in attitudes, perhaps between artists and their level of involvement depending on whether a work is with a private collector or in a museum.

MERRIN:  Mostly, whenever we can get access and we know that the artist is alive, we try to enquire with the client who the artist is and whether they know if they're alive.  Like, we tried to search for information on the artist and whether they are in practice.  We try to contact them.  Some of the artist have a different approach when it comes to conservation.  Like, for some of them, not for everyone, some of them it is like they have already sold the object to the client, and now it is up to them what they want to do with the object.  So, they don't have any issues with the conservation aspect.  If there is a scratch, they don't want to do anything particularly for that.  There are some artists who are very much aware of what it is, and they will just say I have the colour with me, or I have this material to do the conservation part and bring it for retouching and they could touch it up.  That's one thing.  There are very different sets of ideas.  We have a different approach.  Every artist has a different approach when we bring up these points.  Like when we try to contact them.  For this particular case study, the first two objects were from a private client.  She has brought it somewhere from abroad, these objects.  And she was not very sure about the artist.  We didn't have any details.  She couldn't give us any details regarding the artist.  We were not able to figure out who the artists were.  For those two sculptures, for those two objects, we didn't have any interaction with the artist.  For the rest of the objects, the artist was not alive when we were conserving those objects, so then we couldn't get in touch with the artist and understand their perspective regarding the conservation.

But we do have involvement of some of the artists for some of the objects, whenever we can.  Whenever we can, we try to get in touch with the artist and take their perspective into our consideration.  Like, if they want to or have any inputs from their side, we try to incorporate them in our work.

PIP:  Great, thank you so much.

TANUSHREE:  Thank you, Pip.  Merrin, I would like to read out some questions from the chat box.  So there is one from Veronika from the university of Trieste, "Thank you very much for such interesting case studies.  I have more a curiosity than a question.  Did it happen to use nanoparticles or nano films for protection of drawings or other artworks from corrosion, dye fading, et cetera?  If you could read it, it would be perfect because I'm in the laboratory and it can be noisy."  Okay, maybe you can comment, Merrin.

MERRIN:  As of now we have not ventured into that aspect yet.  So, I'm sorry, I can't give more information.  Like, we are not much aware of that aspect.  Since it has been mentioned, this is something for us as research to take up and see what the possibilities are.

TANUSHREE:  I think Merrin, if I can add to it.  I think in New Delhi in the National Museum Institute there is one student who is already researching on nanoparticles and their use in conservation.

MERRIN:  Okay are, that would be wonderful to have.

TANUSHREE:  Yes.  I will read out the next question.  So, this is from Victoria Ward from the Courtauld Institute of Art.  "Does INTACH undertake technical analysis and take samples to understand the materials and techniques of the heritage objects in cases where it is unclear?"

MERRIN:  Yes, we do have technical analysis.  We do conduct technical analyses.  For painting, we have multi spectral imaging which we mainly, which is mainly done by us.  And then right now, for example, we are ‑‑ not for the materials but for the contemporary materials because those materials can be sourced out and we can find out closer to the material and we can still venture into finding the closer materials and composition‑wise also.  For traditional materials, it becomes a bit difficult.  So, I am involved in one of the projects that is the department of science and technology‑funded project.  So, basically it is studying, the technical study of 18th century polychrome sculpture which is in the collection of the Museum of Art.  It is basically to understand what kind of material has been used in the paint layer, what kind of materials have been used as a binding medium and the ground layer.  So, all of the micro samples have been taken and we have done FDR and XR [inaudible] to figure out what are the pigments and element compositions and so on.  When we talk about some ‑‑ we have a lot of objects which come to us from private clients.  To do technical research, it becomes a bit more challenging because we don't have that funding or that kind of money to have the technical analyses or things like that done.  So, it becomes a bit difficult in that way.  We try to see as much as possible, whatever is possible in the sense of use multi spectral imaging, light imaging, microscopic imaging, to get information regarding the composition to the layers, the staining techniques.  Those are the only things we are equipped to do.  I hope that in the future we will get some funding and we can fund that.

TANUSHREE:  Thank you, Merrin.  Merrin, may I add one part to this question?  How does INTACH collaborate with other scientific organisations for the instruments and expertise?

MERRIN:  Collaborations ...

TANUSHREE:  Like with the department of science and technology, you're already working on research projects.  I'm curious how it is with using instruments and different scientific laboratories and things like that.

MERRIN:  In my experience, we have a polarised microscope, and we have XRF, which is what we have in the research unit.  And then, like, if we have, for example, we want to do a study about wood, if we get a sample where we are more curious to understand the anatomy of the wood or what kind of wood it is, we can send it out to the wood institution, where we can send the sample and there would be a wood scientist who would be able to do it for us.  He will charge, of course, he will charge us a fee.  Right now, we also had an association in between with the University of Vienna, the University of Applied Arts also, where Tanya had taken some sessions for us, where our understanding regarding materials, she had made some classes where she had done pigment analysis and how to go about it.  We in a nascent state of developing our research unit.  We are just gathering information, trying to establish as much collaboration as possible with other institutions, so that we can have that kind of capacity to do research on a larger scale, as well as for funding also.

TANUSHREE:  Thank you.  This indeed gives a bit of perspective into how things are working there.  I'm sure we have more questions.  If not questions, they can also be points for discussions if somebody would like.  Maybe if you allow me, Merrin, I would like to read one question from the chat.  This is from Manon:  "Thank you for this interesting presentation.  In India, is there a legislation protecting the artwork before you restore it?  Do you have any obligation regarding artists' authorship?"

MERRIN:  No, there is no such framework, no such framework which has been established.  When we deal with the objects, it is just us and the client that are interacting.  Even the decision of whether ‑‑ because there is no ‑‑ to answer the question, there is no legislation which has been formulated.  It is almost like the legal entity would be there as how our possession of an individual person, the rights of the possession of an individual person would be.  It comes under that bracket and not as an artwork and regarding the intellectual property for an artist, that is not very well developed.  I think eventually it would be in a stage where it would be well developed, and things could come into that platform.  As of now when we deal with the clients, it is an interaction between a client and the conservator.  Mostly he has the possession session of how he wants the object to come out to be.  He is paying for the service, so how the ultimate object would look like.  We can advise them on what is ethical.  We would not like to go beyond this, because this could be damaging.  Whatever the reasoning is there, we can deliver.  But in a legal framework, it has not been ‑‑ there is no setting of a legal framework for such kind of artist authorship.  There is nothing like that.

TANUSHREE:  Let's see what the future brings.


TANUSHREE:  Merrin, there are some direct questions for you from Zeeyoung.

ZEEYOUNG:  Thank you so much for the interesting presentation, Merrin.  I had a question about the community of professionals of conservators in India.  It was really fascinating to see what kind of artworks you work on.  We don't have ‑‑ it is a rare opportunity for us to see what you in India as conservators are dealing with.  I was curious to know how large the community of contemporary art, modern and contemporary art conservation is in India, and how active the community is in terms of sharing information, discussions, et cetera.

MERRIN:  As I know, as well as I know, we didn't have any, it is a large group of people who work on modern and contemporary art.  We also have a national modern art gallery, there are more or less mainly private galleries or art collectors who consider buying modern art.  When it comes to the interaction regarding conservation of modern art, it is quite a limited space.  Not much interaction is happening, at least as far as I know, there is not much of conferences or things happening in the Indian art conservation field for contemporary art.  It is an evolving thing and I feel eventually we would reach a stage ‑‑ what happens now is that I feel, it is a personal view, what I feel is mostly the scene is dominated by museum objects, like the concerns of museums and their collections.  These are the people who would be having funding to put it to exhibit it and all of those things.  So, where the money is, there are more focus, the focus is more towards that.  When it comes to understand the process of decay of contemporary art as well as modern materials, it would take a bit of time.  So, when we reach that period or that time when we understand that this is a common problem with acrylic painting or resin‑based sculpture, there may be a need for a conference or a need for that type of community to arise.  It is a limited interaction we have of now.  Mostly we're focused on protecting historical objects and how to save it from environmental degradation.  All of that is in our minds.  We pay less attention to modern materials, that's what I feel is happening right now.  Still, we are going to develop this in this aspect.

ZEEYOUNG:  Thank you for that answer.

TANUSHREE:  Ana, maybe you would like to ask the next question?

ANA:  Hi, I'm Ana Lizeth from Mexico.  It is very interesting the case studies you have presented.  Thank you very much for sharing with us.  My question is related to when you were taking about the legal framework for authorship.  Do you have cases where the artist wants to restore their work and, in this case, who are the logistics in this case?  I don't know.  Do you have experience in this topic?  Thank you.

MERRIN:  I don't think so, I don't think we have any artists coming with that.  We always try to have an interaction with the client to see whether he can get in touch with them.  If there is a paint loss and if doesn't need a structural intervention, where there is just a paint loss, probably this is not something we should be taking up.  If there is a structural loss, like something that has to or can be dealt with by the artist.  We try to have a conversation with client to see if they can take it up with the artist on the paint loss and their approach to that.  In some cases, the artist would get involved and the object would be sent back, and we would say, okay, I have this in my palette, and I can touch it up.  For structural conservation, if there is a problem, or there is tear or something, mostly the artist prefers us to do the mending and those kinds of interventions.

ANA:  Thank you.

TANUSHREE:  Thank you, Merrin.  I will quickly read out the next question from the chat for you from Dunja: "Thank you for the in‑depth presentation, my question is more regarding the material used for gluing and consolidating the low‑fired ceramic sculpture.  Could you maybe elaborate on the different materials that you often use or prefer to use in such cases."

MERRIN:  So, the filling material used was clay.  Clay was mixed with; I think this answer has to be given by Subrata Sen.  I want him to unmute himself.  I know about the filling material.  Just a minute, I will ask him to unmute.  He will be able to tell you better than that, or I can write back to you.

TANUSHREE:  Okay.  Let's do it like this.  Let's move on to the next question for now.

The next question is from Ruth.  Sorry, I think Subrata is here.

SUBRATA:  Yeah, yeah.

TANUSHREE:  Would you like to add now to this question that we were just asked about the materials?

SUBRATA:  The material is normal clay, and the ball clay.  It is what the low‑fired terracotta is made of.  First of all, we tried to adhere this, it is a paraloid, 20% paraloid.  We mixed paraloid with solvent and acetone of 20%.

TANUSHREE:  I think he want to say 20% of paraloid.

SUBRATA:  Paraloid.

TANUSHREE:  Okay.  So, Merrin, do you want to add anything?

MERRIN:  I will decipher and send it on.

SUBRATA:  Yes, 20% paraloid.

MERRIN:  Yes, he said 20% paraloid.

TANUSHREE:  Okay, all right.  Thank you, Subrata.  Thank you, Merrin. 

We move on to the next question by Ruth.  "Thank you for the interesting presentation.  I would like to know if you have any other perspective approach like a professional dealing with the symbolic, religious or special anthropological values?"

MERRIN:  This is a very interesting question.  We have many case studies on this.  When we work with religious objects, for example I will take an example, we were working in one of the wall paintings in Ladakh, many of the wall paintings have the religious and the small figures.  For them, it is not acceptable when, like, they are mud plaster, to have the basic idea of how it would look like, it is mud plaster on which they would have an organic pigment, gum‑based pigment mixed and painted over with.  So, during, I think 2012, there was a heavy cloud burst in those areas.  Due to that, because of the mud structure, there was heavy rain fall and the mud structure had soaked up so much water.  The roofs got heavy; part of the figures got distracted.  There were cracks.  The mud had washed out from the ceiling and penetrated through the structure as well as on the face of the wall painting itself.  There were plaster losses also, so some of the deities' heads were missing in some cases.  Some heads were missing on some figures.  Because of the climate changes and the rain and everything, the plaster had a lot of deterioration happening to it.  Because of that, many of the figures were disfigured.  When it comes to conservation aspects, particularly it is said, we are supposed to practise that it shouldn't be recreated.  Whatever is missing should not be recreated and made it into a new form, that doesn't exist.  That is not an approach which our religious figures have.  Like a religious figure should not be looking incomplete for the people who worship it.  If we just tell them is a conservation aspect that we shouldn't go beyond the ethical issue of doing or recreating something which is not there, it is not acceptable for them.  It is like we can do the conservation part and when you come back and there could be a scene or scenario where the conservation, they've made a new wall and then there is something more than created on it with acrylic paint so that would be all of the original paint layer and everything would be underneath this new modern material.  It is kind of ‑‑ in a way, if you don't understand the community with whom you're working, at times the approach of ethics and everything, it is not something taken into consideration by the community.  For them, it is not a negotiable thing to have a deity or a figure, a religious symbol, to have it a disfigured face, so that hurts the sentiment.  We cannot say ethically I won't be doing it because that is against my conservation practice, I will not be considering a good conservator.  So, what is the approach?  What should be the approach?  That is always something which we have to work up on.  We had to bring it into a level where we give an area, give a space where they can make it with the traditional pint or we can encourage people to get training to make traditional paintings and we can help them and give them prepared [inaudible], and when there is a loss, the plaster can be done by us with the indigenous materials.  The materials can be given to them.  With our direction, there can be people who can train with the indigenous materials and paint over in the way they want it to be.  There can be a difference between the original layer and the new layer that is added, and we can make sure that nothing is embedded under new materials with a base that is not compatible with the original.  People are more understanding when they feel that understand their religious perspective, and they can also incorporate your vision or the aspects you want to tell them.  They will also understand that.  It happens a lot in India where it is a non‑negotiable thing, like, you cannot go and say, okay, I will do this because the ethics tells me to do it, we have to take into consideration who are the real owners of these objects who will or live with these objects, and who are supposed to worship them.  It has also to be considered.  That's what I feel.  It is a personal opinion again.

TANUSHREE:  I agree also, Merrin, with you.  I think living cultural heritage in India is something that we have to see with a different perspective.  The idea of completeness is also something that we have to always take into picture as conservators.

Merrin, if you allow, we have one more question in the chat box, if we can quickly go through it.  It is from Elise.  She is curious to know what the ratio of privately owned artworks and works owned by institutes/museums is and if there are any significant differences in approaches for conservation between the two.

MERRIN:  The significant difference is the two.  If we have a private client, they have a time frame.  Maybe there's a party in their house and they want to put the painting in a clean home at their house for a party sore something like that.  That time is a very important aspect, as well as for the money for conservation, that's also one other aspect.  So, there are a lot of private collectors in India.  It's not limited.  There are a lot of private collectors.  Even me and you will also be considered as a private collector.  So, multiple that with all of the towns in India!

TANUSHREE: [inaudible].

MERRIN:  With the population, there are a lot of private collectors and most of them are now aware about their objects, they want ... maybe they won't be thinking about the conservation in that aspect but when we have this training and workshops and seminars and conferences which we can conduct, there are a lot of people who come in to our lab, have a lot of questions about, like, I have this grandmother's textile object and how can I conserve it.  We see a lot of potential regarding private collectors.  Museum collections are there, so we have a very rich cultural heritage.  There's like thousands and thousands of years of different traditions coming together, different religions.  We have a lot of museums which have the collections housed there.  More than that, whatever the museums have, many people have in their houses also.  Like 100‑year‑old or 200‑year‑old heirloom is in people's homes too. I think the ratio of private collectors would be more than the museums in India.

TANUSHREE:  Right.  Merrin, I'm sure we have many more questions that many of us would like to go on with the discussion.  But unfortunately, we have to also keep track of the time.  And thus, we have to say goodbye.  But before saying goodbye, I would like to thank you and Subrata very much for this very interesting presentation for giving us such a rich insight into the challenges that contemporary art is posing in India.  So, thank you very much once again for your time.  With this, I would like to also thank all of our audience for showing interest and making the session really interactive.  A special thanks to Paula, Pip, Ana and Zeeyoung from INCCA for helping us with this event.  A big thank you also to our captioners, Nicola Dutton, for enabling Closed Captions today to this event. 

I would like to remind you all that because we recorded this session, this will be available online on the INCCA website.  If you would like to have a look again or if you week would like to share it with your colleagues, feel free to do so.  And also, keep an eye on the other events that will happen within INCCA as well.  If you like, you can follow us on Instagram.  Our account is  I thank you all once again for joining.  I wish you a great day ahead!  See you in the next events.