Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH)

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Principal Investigator: Anupam Sah

INTACH is an autonomous non-governmental Indian non-profit society that seeks to preserve Indian culture and heritage. It was founded in 1984.

The temples, palaces, dwellings and caves of Orissa are rich in mural paintings that largely exist in an advanced state of dilapidation. Most are damaged, all are deteriorating and many are being pulled down or repainted. The existing literature on mural paintings in the region is largely art historical in nature and does not provide information on the technical and visual aspects that are part of scientific conservation.

In May 1995, the Indian Conservation Institute, a subsidiary of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), deputed Anupam Sah, an art conservator-restorer, to establish the Orissa Art Conservation Centre (OACC) in Bhubaneshwar. The Centre’s objective was to help conserve valuable elements of the built heritage of the region, and serve as a centre for training in art conservation for Asia.

Under Anupam Sah’s leadership, the Centre undertook technical studies, scientific analyses and visual documentation of the wall and cave paintings of Orissa, with the objective of developing conservation strategies and enhance and apply the knowledge and skills of traditional mural painters.

The Centre’s thorough documentation of the mural paintings revealed that most of the murals were executed with natural pigments on mud or lime plastered walls. While the traditional palette used earth and mineral colours, modern enamel paints are now popular. The Centre also came across many instances of overpainting on traditional images with synthetic substances. This is a real and continuing challenge to conservation efforts.

The OACC team recognised the importance of recording discussions with traditional artists to recollect their techniques. In the process of gathering data on traditional techniques, the team also attempted to profile the traditional artist. It is evident that the OACC’s attempts have been a significant intervention.

This project has thus enabled the OACC team to better understand the context of the Centre’s work, and the challenges it faces. As a fallout of this work, Anupam is seriously considering the framing of an educational programme addressing both government officials and local patrons, which aims at securing a future for the mural paintings.