A licence to conserve: cultural diversity as a practical asset in conservation
Qiu, Jin Xian
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This paper, co-authored by conservators from the Hirayama Studio at the British Museum, discusses whether staff at a Western institution have the right and appropriate qualifications to conserve objects from different cultures. What is appropriate in conserving culturally diverse material? Do we at the British Museum, on the one hand, risk breaking traditions when treating objects from different cultures, or, on the other, is there a risk that respect for a culture leads to fear of treating an artefact at all? Focusing on East Asian paintings, the paper refers to benchmark frameworks to ensure that conservators achieve appropriate standards even though they differ in Asia and the West. When the Hirayama Studio was opened in the 1990s it provided a unique environment for treating paintings in as traditional and authentic a way as possible, including recruiting experts with impeccably honed craft skills. And yet our studio differs greatly from conservation studios in East Asia. We describe how our environment, which embraces diversity in background, tradition and ethos, allows us to approach the treatment of complex material from Japan, China and Korea, and show how collaboration is encouraged and know-how safeguarded.