Art is as much about heritage and culture as it is about beauty. However, as centuries pass, Art pieces deteriorate, due to environmental factors as well as human vandalism. Conserving art is all about restoring heritage art to its past glory.

Maimoona Nargis, our next pathbreaker, has saved several centuries old heritage monuments and antique artefacts, for future generations to appreciate the richness and diversity of Indian Art.

Maimoona talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her passion for art, culture and heritage that led her to study Art Conservation and then freelancing as Art Conservator for government and non-government organizations.

For students, Art need not be just about creation. The creativity also comes from restoring paintings and other historical artworks in such a way that they are as good as the original !

Maimoona, your background?

My parents are from a very simple and middle class family. My father was a UP police head constable. My mother is simple religious housewife. I was passionate about art from the beginning. I love art, culture and heritage from childhood. I was little bit careless in childhood. But my grasping power was always very strong

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

So I did my Fine Arts in graduation, PG Diploma in Museology from Aligarh Muslim University and Masters in Art Conservation from National museum institute, New Delhi. Conservation and Restoration is my passion.

How did you get your first break? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

I got my first break with artist Jatin Das,  for conservation of his paintings. Jatin das needed a conservator for protecting his paintings. Jatin das’ s paintings had many problems like cracking of paint layers, flaking of paint, dirt stains etc. Jatin Das called the Director of Conservation at National Museum in New Delhi. I was looking for a job at that time. So the director called me and sent me to Jatin Das’s studio for job.

Tell us about your career path.

I started by working for eight months at Jaigarh fort, Jaipur Rajasthan in 2002 as Curator and Conservator. Jaigarh fort is a fort and has a museum. This was on a contract basis job for eight months. I displayed museum objects in galleries, documented all antiques, made signage boards regarding the Fort’s information. This was my second job after my work with artist Jatin Das.

My career started as a freelance conservator. I worked as conservator with other firms and societies on a contract basis. I registered my own firm in 2008 as Art Conservation and Restoration house. So after registration my firm got the first tender of Rupees Fifty Thousand for Albert Hall Museum at Jaipur Rajasthan for Textile Conservation (conservation and repair of royal antique dresses). After that I started bidding for tenders and projects. I bid for govt and non govt tenders . So I am working with govt and non govt bodies. I have received national award in Karnal Haryana by NGO. I have received twenty awards in Jaipur at state level for best heritage works.

After that my third freelance contract job was in national museum laboratory. I worked as senior conservator at National Museum laboratory for conservation of Persian Mughal period manuscripts. Conservation and repair of damaged and deteriorated manuscripts of Mughal emperors such as Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan, Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah Zafar. Those manuscripts were written in their Darbar by kalam and ink . Many NGO and companies didn’t pay my salary on time. But I preferred job satisfaction over salary because I needed experience. Work experience was more important for me. So I sacrificed and struggled for money in my job period. But I didn’t lose courage.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

  • Challenge 1:  I am a freelance conservator, so contractors of conservation hire me for work. But they dont pay me on time. Contractors have to pay me eight lakh rupees. But I don’t lose my patience and courage.   
  • Challenge 2: I conserved Mughal period Persian manuscripts. It was a risky task due to ink bleeding problem, paper was fragile. But i conserved all 700 manuscripts.
  • Challenge 3: I conserved 200 year old textile paintings of Mumbai International Airport T2. Paintings were broken in small pieces. It was 15X15 feet. Now the paintings are displayed in good condition at T2 third level International Airport, Mumbai. A passenger had broken a big terracotta Rawan while clicking a picture at T2 international Airport ,Mumbai. So the hand of Rawan was broken in small pieces. I conserved Rawan’s hand in such a way that nobody can find cracks in the joints. I also conserved 750 years old Quran and 400 yrs old Geeta of the State Museum in Kota, Rajasthan. I have solved many challenges in my conservation career. In the whole of India, I am the only Shia Muslim Art Conservator. I have done many challenging and risky projects for Govt of India.

Where do you work now? 

I have three projects now, two are  in Jaipur for Fresco Painting Conservation of a 300 year old Heritage Haweli  and restoration of Marble Jali Mehrab in Amer, Fort Amer, Jaipur Rajasthan. One is in Patiala Punjab for conservation of Sheesh Mahal. 

Human vandalism is the main problem for us. Written names, gutkha, pan stains on wall, painting etc.

My job requires qualification of conservation and experience/practical knowledge of conservation techniques.

A typical day at work is a new challenge and risky task. I love risky and challenging tasks, especially related to conservation. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

I saved many heritage monuments ( Amer Fort, Nahargarh fort, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall Museum Jaipur Rajasthan, Chittaurgarh State Museum Fort, Akbar Fort Ajmer, Jaisalmer Museum, Pali Museum, Bikaner Museum, Kota Museum, Alwar Museum, Sikar Museum, Bharatpur Museum, Jodhpur Museum of Rajasthan) and antique artefacts for future generations. I save my art and culture for the future. 

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

Conservation of Fresco painting of Bhojan Shala, Amer fort. It’s a dining room of the fort. Full paintings on the wall, roof, and temple paintings of four Hindu religious shrines.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Please choose your subject according to your hobby or passion. Make a passion. Don’t run away from challenges. Have patience, because the deserving success comes in slow motion for a long time. Fast success comes the wrong way for a short time.

Future Plans?

I want to take up big tasks. I want to save my culture and tradition, heritage, and antiques from going into wrong hands of commercial conservation companies. Because they don’t follow ethics of conservation. My future and dream goal is to win a Padam Shri award. This is hard to get but not impossible. Because everything is possible if you will try and do hard work. So please choose your profession according to your hobby because if you have your hobby as profession, you will achieve 100% success in professional life. Profession with hobby makes everyone passionate about work.