Myanmar time warp

26 Jan

I was fortunate enough to spend much of December and January in Myanmar (Burma) on an excellent adventure with my intrepid daughter. As there is little or no infrastructure there, and the government ruled by military junta, the state of the arts is in many ways rather grim.

National Museum, Yangon

National Museum, Yangon, looks modern and well kept on the outside…

There may well be a flourishing underground contemporary arts scene, but none we could find. The National Museum holds fascinating treasures, important archaeological and historical objects, however the condition of the building and the vast majority of its contents can only be described as woeful.

Caring for art and artefacts in tropical climates is challenging, especially if the materials and techniques of the works are not endemic to the region, for example photography, works on paper and oil paintings.  All examples of these types of cultural materials showed signs of degradation ranging from mild to severe, while the musical instruments, lacquerware, wooden artefacts, stone and ceramic fared better. Little or no climate control within the building envelope and unsympathetic display conditions have resulted in extensive corrosion for many metal artefacts. Dust, insect and physical damage combined with annual exposure to high relative humidity appears to have caused extensive damage to ornately beaded and metallic thread costumes.

the-ceremonial-royal

Ceremonial Royal Dress worn by the last monarch of Burma, King Thibaw, prior to exile to India in 1885.

Works on paper appear to have acidic mounts, and are affected by mould, foxing, warping and acid burn, while paintings on canvas are warped, mouldy and blooming. Repairs to many stone images of the Buddha appear to have been made with proprietary adhesives, with many noses slipping slightly from their original positions.

Perhaps fortunately for the artefacts, but less fortunate for visitors, is that the lighting is very poor throughout the gallery, with intermittent fluorescents and the rare tungsten globe in a myriad of unused fittings. It is forbidden to take photographs in the museum and there are very few available on the web to illustrate my claims.

Over time, the government may change and seek to invest funds into the preservation of its national treasures. This will require enormous resources and keep conservators busy for a very long time. Its a great illustration of how prevention is better than cure, and also how privileged we are in developed countries to have access to such wonderful collections housed in well resourced facilities.

Cash Brown 2014

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