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Conservation of Wall Painting Fragments in the Collection of the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan

Conservation of Wall Painting Fragments in the Collection of the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan

National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo

Tajikistan

The Collection of the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan

2008-2011 Human Resource Development,Conservation and Restoration
01/12/2011
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BACKGROUND

Tajikistan, a treasure trove of wall paintings

Discovery of ancient wall paintings in Tajikistan

After World War II, the Soviet Union dispatched teams of archaeological researchers to the republics in Central Asia in order to carry out excavation works. In Tajikistan, excavation was conducted at Buddhist sites in the south as well as on the remains of the Sogdian city in the north. The results of these expeditions were remarkable, as the teams discovered colorful wall paintings in Buddhist and Zoroastrian temples and in private homes of the wealthy. The paintings attracted attention worldwide, and suggested new directions for study of heretofore puzzling aspects of religion and material culture in ancient Central Asia.


Conservation of the wall paintings

Researchers at the Hermitage State Museum experimented with new methods for conserving the wall paintings, that is, removing the fragile paintings from the wall, after fixing them with synthetic resin, and taking them to a laboratory for further restoration. Many of the wall painting fragments removed by this method were transported to the Hermitage State Museum for restoration.
In 1991, Tajikistan, along with other republics in Central Asia, gained independence from the Soviet Union. Excavations were still carried out by Russian teams, but the artifacts discovered had to be preserved within the state of Tajikistan. Consequently, preservation and restoration of the artifacts also had to be done in Tajikistan, but there was no system in place to do so, since all previous work had been carried out under the direction of the State Hermitage Museum, and Tajikistan did not have the resources to take on the task.

Treatment of sides of wall painting fragment

Trainees at exhibition of wall painting fragments

ACTIVITIES

The beginning of conservation of cultural heritage in Tajikistan

Opening of the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan

After independence, amid growing interest shown by the people of Tajikistan in their own culture and history, the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan opened in 2001, exhibiting artifacts from the ancient and middle ages that had been discovered in the country. The museum holds a great number of wall paintings, yet only some twenty pieces are on display, while large numbers linger in storage awaiting restoration work. International cooperation is therefore urgently needed to replace the support formerly provided by the Soviet Union, and to train experts to carry out conservation work on these wall paintings.


Human resources training through conservation of wall paintings

In March 2008, an agreement was signed between the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (hereinafter “NRICPT”), and the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography, Academy of Science, Tajikistan, regarding cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage. With the aim of training conservation experts in Tajikistan, the two institutions conducted preservation and restoration work on the fragments of wall paintings in the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan. This project was carried out as a part of the “Networking Core Centres for International Cooperation on Conservation of Cultural Heritage” under the Agency for Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with the“Cooperative Project for Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in West Asia” administered by NRICPT.
During the project, conducted over three years from April 2008 to March 2011, ten missions were dispatched from Japan, and seven young Tajik researchers eager to work in conservation took part in the program as trainees. Under the direction of experts with experience in conservation of wall paintings in Japan and Europe, the young trainees learned the process thoroughly, including sorting and numbering wall painting fragments, photography, assessing condition, cleaning, reinforcement, joining, filling, and fixation of fragments on new mounting. The trainees worked on ten wall painting fragments during the course, and these were later displayed in the National Museum.
In addition, a workshop on “Conservation of Wall Paintings from Central Asia” was held each year, with the participation of conservation experts from archaeological institutes in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, as well as the State Hermitage Museum and Dunhuang Academy.

National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan

Wall painting fragment on display

RESULTS

From Tajikistan to Central Asia

During the three years of training, participants acquired skills and knowledge necessary for the conservation of wall paintings. At the same time, they came to recognize the importance of the cultural heritage of their own country, and its international significance. In the future, they will be responsible for the conservation of cultural heritage in Tajikistan. Ongoing assistance and support is necessary, however, until they are established as experts in the field.
The workshop was not only effective in enhancing the knowledge and skills of professionals engaged in preservation and restoration of wall paintings in Central Asia, but also saw the formation of a network of researchers and professionals from various countries.
Following the conservation project on the wall paintings in Tajikistan, NRICPT is currently working together with relevant institutions in Central Asia to organize workshops on archaeological research. Taking the project in Tajikistan as a point of departure, we look forward to supporting various activities related to conservation of cultural heritage in Central Asia.

Workshop, autumn 2010

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