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Indian Ice Hockey Goalie Saves Ladakh’s Historic Work & Heritage

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How do you shield and protect tradition? It’s a query Noor Jahan – a 32-year-old skilled in artwork conservation and heritage administration from Leh – has grappled with for a decade. 

By Shesrig (which means ‘heritage’) Ladakh, an artwork conservation observe she based along with her cousin Wajeeda Tabassum, Noor performs vital restoration and conservation work on historic wall work, non secular manuscripts, thangka (Buddhist scroll) work and metallic works. 

“My actual curiosity lies in engaged on historic wall work and thangka work,” says Noor Jahan in a prolonged dialog with The Higher India

Backed by a Grasp’s diploma from the Delhi Institute of Heritage Analysis and Administration (DIHRM) and a PhD from the Nationwide Museum Institute, she has labored on wall work relationship again to the late eighth century and Buddhist thangkas from the nineteenth century. Additionally, since 2019, she has run Shesrig on her personal following Wajeeda’s departure for international shores.  

What’s extra, Noor can be the goalkeeper for the Indian ladies’s ice hockey crew. Earlier this yr, she helped India end second within the Union Girls’s Ice Hockey Match in Dubai. Noor reckons that she has a couple of extra years left earlier than she “formally retires” from the game. 

By all accounts, it’s a rare lifestyle, and that is her story. 

Shesrig Ladakh, an organisation founded by Noor Jahan, who is also a goalkeeper of the ice hockey team, engages in the protection of Ladakh's heritage.
Noor Jahan engaged on outdated wall portray in Saspol caves, Ladakh

A serendipitous journey

There was a void in Noor’s life after incomes her bachelor’s diploma in commerce from Delhi College. Going by means of the motions, she had no ardour for what she was studying. To mirror on what was subsequent and revel in a brief vacation, she left for Leh after commencement in 2011.  

It was throughout a stroll by means of Leh’s crowded outdated city, when she met a couple of international conservators from the Tibet Heritage Fund engaged on an outdated Buddhist temple. Intrigued by what they have been doing, Noor engaged in a brief chat with them which might change her life. 

After returning to Delhi, she started studying up on artwork conservation and learnt that she might pursue greater research on this subject.  

What additionally sealed the choice to get into this subject for Noor have been reminiscences from her childhood.  

“My mom is from Hunder village in Nubra. Each vacation, we’d at all times go to Nubra to fulfill my maternal grandparents. The bus would cease at this location known as Chamba on the principle street from the place you needed to stroll contained in the village. This explicit route holds nice significance in my life now as a result of there are various stupas alongside the best way. Each time I’d lookup at these pathway stupas, I’d see these outdated work. However every passing yr, some a part of these work would disappear. After I utilized for this course at DIHRM, the very first thing I considered have been these work and the conservation work I might do sometime,” she remembers. 

Allied with a robust need to return again residence, beginning this course introduced ardour again into her life. “The whole lot I used to be learning there discovered a function in Ladakh,” she says. 

Ladakh's heritage is in the hands of people like Noor Jahan of Shesrig Ladakh
Noor Jahan discovered function in preserving Ladakh’s heritage

Discovering Shesrig 

Following the primary yr of her Grasp’s programme in 2012, Noor and Wajeeda opted to do their internship with the Himalayan Cultural Heritage Basis (HCHF), a Leh-based non-profit. Serving to them discover tasks to work on was Dr Sonam Wangchok, founder secretary of HCHF. 

Throughout this internship, the primary main venture Noor obtained concerned in was a wall portray at Diskit Gompa, a 14th-century Buddhist monastery in Nubra Valley

She remembers in an Instagram submit, “The internship entailed engaged on the restoration of wall work from the seventeenth century below the supervision of artwork conservators from [the] Czech Republic. This was my first hands-on expertise the place I had the chance to preserve sacred Buddhist artwork and the chance to remain on the monastery itself. I believe that internship modified my life without end as I not solely started working on essentially the most lovely wall work however gave me the chance to fulfill and work together with the monks on the monastery who took me and Wajeeda in as their very own.”

After finishing her Grasp’s programme in 2013, Noor got here again to Leh to work with different organisations like Artwork Conservation Options and Achi Affiliation, amongst others, as a freelancer. In 2014, she labored on her first venture exterior Ladakh on the Golden Temple in Amritsar with Heritage Preservation Atelier, and likewise commenced her PhD on the Nationwide Museum Institute. Regardless of these landmark moments, she knew this kind of freelance work wasn’t sustainable. 

“Working in these organisations was an awesome studying expertise and helped me to seize a few of the finer nuances of conservation. Even at present with Shesrig, I collaborate with most of them. However this type of work wasn’t sustainable, i.e. it was restricted to summer season months,” she says. 

“In the summertime, I’d work on many tasks. However the second winters got here, all these organisations would cease their work in Ladakh. I actually wished to begin one thing of my very own in Leh, whereas working sustainably and all year long,” she provides. 

Thus, in 2017, Noor and Wajeeda based Shesrig Ladakh and rented out a historic construction known as Choskor Home as their base in Leh’s outdated city, which they needed to first restore.

This three-storied construction is situated proper behind the Jama Masjid (mosque) within the centre of Leh alongside the hillslope. It belongs to a famend household of merchants, who together with different vital households, as soon as led vital commerce missions to Lhasa from Ladakh. 

“Although Choskor Home was actually outdated, we determined to lease it. To revive it, we had initially consulted some architects, however there got here some extent when it turned tough due to prices and time constraints. That’s once we reached out to Achi Affiliation India, a sister organisation of Achi Affiliation (a Swiss-based organisation), which took over the venture of restoring this construction backed by funding from the German Embassy. They helped with establishing the studio by which we at the moment function. We began working inside our studio solely this yr,” says Noor.

By conserving ancient wall paintings, Noor Jahan of Shesrig Ladakh is preserving Ladakh's heritage
Conserving historic wall work is a fragile course of

Conserving wall work  

Conservation and restoration are completely different acts. Noor explains, “In conservation, folks don’t recreate something new. So, if there are losses in a given wall portray, there isn’t any recreation however solely stabilisation. Restoration, in the meantime, seeks to recreate a few of these losses.”

Among the elementary challenges in conserving or restoring outdated artworks embrace bodily entry to distant websites and acquiring the required supplies that they largely import.

Noor provides us an instance of a venture they labored on in collaboration with the Himalayan Cultural Heritage Basis in June 2020 as an instance her level. The location was Chomo Phu, a small one-room Buddhist shrine close to Diskit Monastery, Nubra. 

“It’s fairly a steep hike up from Diskit Monastery, and there’s a gorge contained in the valley the place this shrine is situated. There was no place for lodging. As a substitute, we pitched tents subsequent to the shrine and needed to improvise primary services. We camped in that valley for about 25 days because it was not sensible or potential for us to hike from there to the monastery or the village each day,” she remembers.  

Earlier than, throughout and after the venture, Noor and her crew do in depth documentation work. Throughout this section, they carefully look at the type of deterioration the wall portray has undergone.

On this explicit case, there have been a variety of over-filling and historic fills achieved previously. These fills have been achieved in such a approach that it was obscuring a variety of the unique portray and typically even overlapping it. They needed to fastidiously take away these historic fills.

“One other problem with wall work is that there are a variety of detachments. Within the occasion of any structural motion or water seepage, the plaster will get indifferent from the assist, thus creating these hole areas contained in the portray. You possibly can uncover these hole areas by means of a percussion take a look at (a technique for the structural inspection of wall work). We then carry out grouting, i.e. fill the gaps between the portray and the assist construction,” she notes.  

Other than these, there are circumstances the place the paint layer will get delaminated. To deal with this, they use a consolidant after which stick the paint layer again to the floor.

“After all, there may be cleansing work which is finished. The work are largely glue-bound tempera (additionally known as secco, that are work on dry surfaces). In this type of method, the pigment is normally combined with the binder after which utilized to the partitions. With water infiltration, the binder turns into weak inflicting delamination of the paint layer,” explains Noor.

“This harm primarily happens due to water. We make sure that to not carry out any moist cleansing, i.e. don’t use any solvents to scrub the wall portray. We solely make use of dry cleansing. There are numerous varieties of conservation-grade sponges which we work with and smooth brushes to take away the mud or any mud infestations,” she provides. 

A significant level of rivalry with wall work is retouching work (transforming small areas of a portray to cowl harm or to masks undesirable options).

With out getting too deep into the topic, with regards to wall portray conservation work, Noor and her crew largely follow what she calls “conservation or stabilisation work”. 

Shesrig Ladakh, an organisation founded by Noor Jahan. is preserving Ladakh's heritage
“It’s vital to see your heritage as an inheritance that has nice worth,” says Noor Jahan

Restoring outdated thangkas

This yr many of the thangkas that have been introduced in for restoration at Shesrig’s studio got here from personal households. Every thangka arrives in a distinct situation. 

In thangka work, you could have a textile-based canvas fabricated from cotton cloth or some other materials utilized by the artist within the centre. These thangkas additionally normally have both silk or brocade borders. Most thangkas they obtained into their studio this yr had silk borders.

Step 1: “For the reason that thangka has come instantly from the chod-khang (prayer room) to our studio, we first take it to a close-by monastery, the place a de-consecration ceremony is finished,” she says. 

Step 2: The following step is to carry the thangka again to the studio, carry out in depth documentation work together with photographic documentation and perceive what sort of issues are seen. Accordingly, they put together a remedy plan. 

Step 3: Normally the centrepiece of the thangka is stitched with a textile border. They separate each components as a result of the material on the border is totally completely different from the canvas within the centre. Following separation, they work on the border and centre piece canvas individually. 

Step 4: As soon as the separation is finished, step one is cleansing the soot. “In thangkas, there are occasions (solely when required), once we go for gentle solvent cleansing however as soon as once more dry cleansing strategies are most popular. Additionally, solvents can typically be harsh. We’ve began making ready gels that are a lot milder and don’t adhere to the floor for the cleansing course of,” she says. 

Step 5: What if there are massive losses or tears on the thangka portray? “We make an identical type of ras-jee (the native time period used for the textile canvas of a Thangka portray) within the studio. We use items of that ras-jee to fix the tears. In any other case, in thangkas, we additionally see a variety of cracks. To fill the cracks, we use the markalak (native clay combined with gentle adhesive) to fill these cracks as a result of that’s a part of the unique strategy of making ready a thangka. We observe the identical strategies whereas restoring it as effectively,” she explains.  

Step 6: As soon as that is achieved, if there may be any consolidation work required or a paint layer is coming off, they repair these issues. Typically, they mend the tears fibre by fibre, which requires very delicate arms. Additionally, if there are any small losses or paint losses, they do delicate retouching work utilizing pure colors or the colors initially used on the thangka.

Conserving thangkas is one of the things Shesrig Ladakh does to preserve the region's heritage
Conservation of Thangsham (the native time period used for the textile border of a Thangka portray) 

Step 7: In the meantime, there may be one other crew which is engaged on the textile border generally known as thangsham domestically. There’s a explicit technique of washing the textile utilizing conservation-grade detergents. 

“We don’t dip it straight into the water. As a substitute, we use moist sponges to scrub it very meticulously. Typically these borders are additionally torn or in any other case in a foul situation, for which we mend them utilizing patchwork with silk, brocade or no matter materials was initially used. We’ve a inventory of uncooked silk, which is white. We dye it as per the thangka’s necessities. If the thangsham, for instance, is blue, we are going to dye the silk blue and do the patchwork from the within. We carry out the method of dyeing ourselves on the studio,” she explains.  

Step 8: As soon as each components are prepared, they sew the centrepiece canvas and the border again collectively, following which a consecration ceremony is finished after which returned to the shopper. 

As soon as once more, relying on the state by which the thangka is shipped, it takes anyplace between a fortnight to 2 months or extra to revive a thangka. It additionally will depend on manpower.

“More often than not, we work in teams of two or three ladies on one thangka, and relying on the size of the duty, it takes a couple of month or two if the harm is in depth,” she says.  

‘What is that this Muslim lady doing right here?’ 

On condition that many of the conservation work she does with Shesrig Ladakh pertains to Buddhist heritage, questions have emanated from both facet of the non secular divide.  

However is her religion an impediment on this line of labor? 

“More often than not, they don’t see my Muslim religion as an impediment to the work that I do. For essentially the most half, I’m not handled as an outsider or not from the neighborhood. Actually, it has been the other, the place I’m given extra respect and love, particularly in monasteries,” she says. 

Nonetheless, just lately she heard somebody say, ‘What is that this Muslim lady doing right here?’ “Look, that is how the world round us is shifting. As Muslims in India, we all know what’s occurring. However I don’t take these feedback personally as a result of I’ve to do what I understand how to do,” she says. 

Noor Jahan
Noor Jahan: “I’ve to do what I understand how to do”

However such ad-hominem feedback don’t essentially come from the Buddhist neighborhood. She even notes how members of her non secular neighborhood judge her line of labor. 

“Typically, folks from the neighborhood method my household to complain about my work, however luckily they’ve been very understanding,” she notes. 

One other battle Noor offers with is the numerous ignorance in Ladakh about artwork and heritage conservation as a subject. “Although they assist me, my dad and mom and a few associates nonetheless don’t perceive the type of work I do. They nonetheless assume this can be a ‘interest’ to me and don’t take me significantly. Although the dialog in Ladakh about restoration and conservation has progressed a bit, there are nonetheless individuals who assume that this work may be achieved without spending a dime. That is one thing, I hope, modifications with time because the dialog round this topic grows,” she says. 

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

(Photographs courtesy Instagram/Shesrig Ladakh/Karamjeet Singh)



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