Well I’ve been back from Philadelphia a couple of days and I am finally getting around to writing a few posts on my first experience going to the conference. First I would like to say that I had a fantastic time and thought that all the coordinators and volunteers did an excellent job putting together such an outstanding conference.
One of the talks I found to be the most interesting and thought-provoking was entitled Restoring the Spirit and the Spirit of Restoration: Dresden’s Frauenkirche as Model for Bamiyan’s Buddhas by James Janowski, Associate Professor , Hampden-Sydney College.
The paper outlined the destruction of the Frauenkirche during WWII when it was bombed by Allied forces and left as a pile of rubble. The church went from being a sanctuary, a ruin, a memorial and back to a church in 2005. The conservation efforts for this site were extensive with each piece of the rubble being inventoried and eventually returned to its original location. The image below shows the integration of old material (in dark stone) together with the new material (light stone).
Mr. Janowski described this conservation as a success saying it is “a striking example of design and implementation, of aesthetic theory and aesthetic practice, coming together to create a piece of architecture that educates, memorializes and captures, empirically and tangibly, the spirit of hope.” I have to say I agree completely and feel that the resurrection of this church must have brought a great deal of peace to those who lost not only their sanctuary but their loved ones. In addition as the building begins to age the stones will no doubt begin to blend in with one another, giving further symbolism to the building.
With that example of restoration in mind Janowski went on to describe the bombing of Bamiyan’s Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. There is a great debate as to whether or not the Buddhas should be restored to their original niches with some believing they should be returned for the local community and the world and others wishing to leave the niches as they are.
It is hard to know what to do in this situation. Most of the Buddhas outer plaster has been reduced to dust making the rebuilding of this site much more restorative. Other questions that come to mind are whether it is too soon to rebuild? Will the Taliban simply bomb the Buddhas again if they are rebuilt? Does rebuilding them correspond with the religious beliefs of Buddhism? The questions are endless.
I do not know the right answer and Janowski had relevent arguments to support both sides. I found both of these stories interesting and informative. They brought up many intriguing conservation issues many of which I am still trying to make decisions about in my own mind. One thing I do know is that as conservators we can only use all the information we have at our disposal to make the best decisions we can at the time.