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Living with COVID: Wearing gloves, young art connoisseur starts restoring British-era wall murals in Kashmir

Srinagar: When the world is grappling with the pandemic, a 29-year-old art connoisseur has embarked on a journey to restore British era wall murals in Kashmir.

Imran Ali Bhat of Hawal is working to restore the centuries-old murals in Government Amar Singh College, Gogji Bagh.  

“Our biggest challenge has been to retouch the art in a way that its pristine form remains intact. This requires precision and careful touch. Amidst this, pandemic broke out and we were faced with greater challenge,” Imran said.

Imran Ali Bhat working to restore the centuries-old murals in Government Amar Singh College, Gogji Bagh.

Wearing masks and gloves, he along with his team maintains a decent distance to keep infection at bay. Call it pandemic blues, the surface is to be disinfected first before starting restoration work.

“These walls already carry art; they are not like a white canvas on which we can use free brushstrokes. We have to create a natural earthen color to maintain its centuries-old color and ensure to stay away from viruses simultaneously,” he said.

This time, brushes, acid-free paper, and gluten-free adhesives are sanitized before putting them to use. 

“We use very fine brushes and paints by mixing mineral pigments or earth pigments. The material used for consolidation is compatible with the original material used. This is also reversible so that it can be taken out in the future without damaging the original paintings. All these tools are properly cleaned before and after work to make sure we stay COVID free,” he said.

Besides murals, Imran has been working on old manuscripts. He has restored 19th-century manuscript and the manuscript from Sheikh Hamza Maqdoom (R.A) era under National Mission for Manuscripts so far.

“The COVID lockdown stalled several of our projects. We had proposed to restore manuscripts in the major repositories like SPS museum and Research library and submitted condition assessment reports,” he said.

Imran is hopeful that the projects will take off sooner than later. “COVID will eventually go, but we need to ensure that it is not too late for our art forms. We can only follow the safety standards but postponing it. Halting it is not an option that our heritage can afford,” he said.