Anaka Asokan is a 2018 scholar who is pursuing an MPhil in Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow. She is the second Indian to pursue this course at this Institution which is internationally recognized as the leading professional education in the field of textile conservation.
Anaka Asokan has a post graduate degree in Conservation of Works of Art from the National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology ; the only Institute in India which offers a professional degree in Art Conservation. Her desire for a personal approach coupled with active participation that would involve contribution in a practical sense drew her to conservation.
According to her fabric is not just a mere piece of cloth or a garment of utility or luxury made by weaving of threads, it’s got much more to it. There is science behind every aspect of textile; be it in the form of its warp and weft, the weaving techniques, dyes and the designs. Apart from science there are also emotions, sentiments and cultural values attached to them.
She is a recipient of the scholarship provided by the National Museum Institute to the top two students consecutively for all three semesters of her study. She was among the five students selected for the Summer School 2017 at the Institute of Conservation, University of Applied Arts, Vienna. She is currently involved in taking care of the museums and organizing various art workshops at Sanskriti Pratishthan, Delhi.
Apart from academics, she is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and Carnatic vocalist. Her main aim is to conserve the rich textile heritage of India and promote Textile Conservation overall.
In this week’s post she shares her experiences interning at the British Museum with us.
Organics department laboratory
As a history graduate and enthusiast, I had a deep urge to delve hands-on into our history. My motive was set but the path to it was full of uncertainties and discoveries. I was introduced to the field of Conservation during my M.A in Art Conservation at the National Museum Institute. While undertaking this course, I found my interest and passion lies with textile conservation. India is known for its textile traditions and heritage worldwide but unfortunately not a lot has been done in terms of its preservation. To bridge this gap and contribute to the conservation of our textile heritage, I with the generous support of the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation undertook the MPhil in Textile Conservation course at the University of Glasgow which is amongst the very few places to offer such a specialization. The Centre for Textile Conservation (CTC) at University of Glasgow only accepts eight students yearly for its two-year course. The eight students belong to different nationalities with different levels of experiences and backgrounds which makes for an interesting and enriching learning experience.
In progress shot of the treatment being carried out on a Coptic textile fragment.
At the end of the first year students are required to undertake a minimum of six weeks summer work placement. I was placed at the British Museum. The British Museum is one of the premier museums in the U.K with a wide range of collections. The textile collection has numerous ethnographic as well as archaeological objects. With a museum of such a scale, there are multitude of events happening simultaneously such as setting up and organizing of exhibitions, loan arrangements, scientific research projects, conservation and public outreach programmes. This ensured that I was exposed to various arenas working in a conservation lab.
My 10-week placement was with the Organics Section of the Conservation Department where I worked with textile conservators, Monique Pullan, Anna Harrison, Nicole Rode and Teresa Heady. The Conservation labs moved to the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC) in early 2014, enabling all conservation studios to be now present within minutes of one another. This has allowed for better communication as to the conservation strategies of the many composite objects conserved, as well as allowing for a sharing of skills between conservators.
At the Van Gogh Exhibit at the Tate Britain
During my time at the British Museum I had holistic experience which combined historical, logistical and conservation related learning. I worked on a variety of archaeological objects which included an Egyptian funerary shroud, two beaded nets and a group of six Coptic textile fragments. Interventive treatment was required to prepare the six fragments for publication photography and for long term storage. In the case of funerary shroud, I undertook extensive documentation along with another textile intern Renate van Oosterhaute while a strategy for transportation, display and storage was to be devised for the two beaded nets for a long-time international loan.
I had never been to London, prior and during this placement, I had an incredible time not only working at the museum, but making most of the vibrant cultural and artistic opportunities available in London: such as visiting the Dior exhibition at V&A and the Van Gogh exhibition at TATE.
With fellow interns and staff at the British Museum Summer Party
My placement at the British Museum has helped me in consolidating my knowledge and learning of the first year in the ‘real’ conservation context. The value placed on the experiences and the acquisition of knowledge about practices and procedures as well as the interaction with those who have been in the field for years is indispensable. To consolidate skills learnt in the first year with practicing conservators in a more hands-on setting was invaluable in bettering my practice. Overall, I learnt a lot in my time on placement at the British Museum. I was able to work on a good range of objects and projects and work with several conservators, allowing me to consolidate my learning as well as approach new treatments and techniques that I can take forward into my second year.
IMAGE CREDITS- ©Trustees of the British Museum