Zeina, a Lahori, works as a Conservation Scientist having studied Chemistry at Columbia University in New York. In her second or third year of her degree she was concerned about where it would take her feeling that science was a very rigid discipline. She was becoming more interested in history and culture and wanted to pursue a career that had a social and humanitarian benefit. Conservation work brought together her interests.
“I became interested in Islamic architecture and wanted exposure to Islamic history and all the crafts and techniques that were used, especially Mughal heritage so I was sure I wanted to come back to Pakistan after my studies. Living so far away from home increased my interest in my own culture and history.”
“Conservation is a very rewarding field but when it’s your own culture and heritage there’s a stronger attachment and a more personal element to it.
“Conservation is a new field in Pakistan. In neighbouring countries - like Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India - they mostly focus on reconstruction where they just replace what’s deteriorating with something new and not a lot of analysis and research is done on the historic materials. So science really comes into play when you focus on preservation rather than reconstruction. This is one of the first projects in Pakistan that is focused on preservation - meaning saving what remains - and this is the first project where science has really been involved.”
“Since the industrial revolution, modern science has of course done a lot of positive things, but in my eyes science has been quite destructive, especially to the environment and has destroyed much of the past. So now I believe it’s time for science to preserve the past.”
“It is really important for future generations to have a cultural awareness of their past. I don’t think the past or the present can be understood unless you contextualise it with respect to the past, especially if your past is so beautiful. The Mughal heritage we have is the pinnacle of our artistic and intellectual development. To bring that back, to remember that and to have a tangible physical embodiment of that past is really important for people to remember. It is a loud reminder of what we have lost.”
Architects, art historians, engineers, fine artists, chemists, conservators, and ceramists make up the constellation of skilled young people working for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) on one of the largest restoration projects in Pakistan.
The 17th century Mughal-era Picture Wall in Lahore’s Walled City has been in a state of decay for over 100 years but thanks to the efforts of the Walled City of Lahore Authority, international donors and the infectious energy of this young team of conservators, the wall is being brought back from the brink.
The first phase of restoration of this UNESCO world heritage site - some 50 metres - was completed at the end of March 2019 and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The remaining 400 metres of this awe-inspiring structure will take a further decade.
This article was originally published on the Wilton Photography blog.