Scholar Update: Kalpana Singh
An eagerness to undertake study for the preservation of the rich cultural heritage of our country inspired me to take MA Conservation at the National Museum Institute, New Delhi. While undertaking the diversified curriculum, I developed a very strong interest in wall painting conservation for its complex and unique nature. Wall paintings in India have always been studied in great detail from an art historical point of view but unfortunately little is known in terms of their methods and materials and of course preservation. With zeal to bridge this gap, after completion of the MA, I worked on a wall painting conservation project in Agra with M/s Art Conservation Solutions, Noida and participated in a conservation training programme, in Nagaur with The Courtauld Institute of Art at the Leon Levy Foundation Centre for Conservation Studies at Nagaur. Both these learning opportunities introduced me to the potential and demands of this much-specialised field. Following these experiences applying for the specialised MA in Conservation of Wall Painting at The Courtauld was a natural decision for me. The Courtauld is an internationally distinguished institute in this specialised professional education and only accepts a small number of students once every three years. Coming from a country that is well known for its rich heritage in wall painting, it is absolutely a great pleasure to be the first Indian to pursue this prestigious MA, which would not have been possible without Inlaks’ generous support.
In the current cohort, we are eight students drawn from a range of international backgrounds and disciplines. In the first year, there is a varied range of courses: Chemistry, Theory & Practice of Conservation, Documentation, and Art History along with intriguing practical sessions. In addition to this, we have had field visits to some very important sites of English medieval wall paintings, like Westminster Abbey and Hardham Parish Church. These field trips have been amazingly helpful for my understanding of English wall paintings and their conservation history, which I did not appreciate very well before. Also, as it is my first time that I am in England it is awesome to go out of vibrant London and enjoy the English countryside too.
Another important component of teaching in this MA is onsite fieldwork. It is a key factor in developing the practical and diagnostic skills necessary for wall painting conservation and often extends up to 6 weeks at least once a year. I am thrilled that my first fieldwork was in Bhutan. We were working in Tango Monastery, founded in the 13th-century. It is one of the oldest and most important monasteries still surviving in Bhutan. We were conserving the beautiful and highly significant 17th-century wall paintings, commissioned by 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgye, one of the most important rulers of Bhutan. The exquisite paintings depict both Buddhist deities and historical figures, and they demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship with fine applications of gilding and delicate glazes. During the six-week fieldwork, I worked on the documentation of these remarkable wall paintings by capturing high-resolution images to produce 3D models of the painted rooms. I also carried out remedial treatments to stabilise the fragile wall paintings. Working on this site was an extraordinary learning experience and I feel this fieldwork was a great opportunity to put into practice all that we learnt earlier this year in London.
I had never visited Bhutan before and it is incredible that how this fieldwork was not only a great opportunity to learn conservation but also the rich culture of this beautiful country. While working in the monastery, witnessing the daily life of the monks, especially the rhythmic chanting, is an experience that I shall always cherish. Bhutan is an important neighbour of India and I am delighted that we share a close bond of friendship with each other. In fact, I could feel that when I was there, as I felt almost like I was in India for its warmth. Considering that more such experiences will be coming my way in the next two years of this MA, I feel it is the beginning of an amazing learning experience. I am confident that the professional education that I will receive at the Courtauld will be instrumental in bridging the gap of qualified personnel in this particular field in India and allowing me to implement the best practices. I really look forward to the future.
Images courtesy: Kalpana Singh.