THE RETRIEVAL OF KUWAIT NATIONAL MUSEUM'S COLLECTIONS FROM IRAQ: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE OPERATION AND LESSONS LEARNED
9 9. ACTING ON THE LESSONS LEARNED
Kuwait is so small that if there is a sudden invasion, the fact has to be faced that there may not be time to get all of the Dar al-Athar collection out. The National Museum would have great problems in moving more than a fraction of its collections out quickly, if only because of their much greater size.
The Baghdad operation exposed all the deficiencies of the museum's original recording system, and the curators decided to use this breathing space before Dar al-Athar goes back on display to completely redesign the museum's documentation systems. When a collection disappears completely and all that is left is whatever documentation may exist, its value, not only to a recovery operation but also to the academic world, is enormous. This insight was brought home very painfully.
The conservators have since worked on improving storage, not only in order to conserve objects in situ but also to store them in such a way that they can be transported with a minimum of handling and packing.
9.1 9.1 DOCUMENTATION AT DAR AL-ATHAR
- Manual records are still used, but the museum is no longer solely dependent on them. The manual filing system has been simplified, but, more important from the point of view of disaster planning, the museum's curatorial, conservation, and photographic archives have been computerized.
- A professional photographer has been hired to clear the backlog of archive photography, and this process is almost complete. The London office has a duplicate of all transparencies and black-and-white photographs.
- All archive photographs (one or two per object) have been scanned and imported into the image records of the database at a resolution varying between 75 and 150 DPI.
- Backup disks are made daily, and weekly copies are kept off-site. The London office has also been computerized and receives monthly backups.
9.2 9.2 Storage
- There is now an ongoing program of providing clear storage boxes (polystyrene or polythene) with inert polyethylene foam supports for all small and vulnerable objects, for the purpose of easy and safe handling as well as for transport. All ivory objects and most of the hard-stone and jewelry objects are now boxed, and all corroding metals are in airtight boxes with desiccated silica gel.
- All carpets and large textiles are on rollers, and covered with thick calico.
- All groups of miniatures, bound manuscripts, and separate leather bindings now have individual archival-quality Solander boxes.
- All objects have been checked for clear numbering.
Although these arrangements do not apply to the whole collection (ceramic and glass objects will always be a problem), much of it is now in a much easier condition to move.
Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah and the National Museum of Kuwait are in the fortunate position of being able to start again, having regained the majority of their collections. It is to be hoped that some of the lessons learned will be of as much use elsewhere as they have been in Kuwait.
My thanks to Sheikha Hussah al-Salem al-Sabah for her continuing support for all aspects of the work of the conservators at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah.
A great debt of gratitude is owed both to UNROP for facilitating the recovery operation and to the Ministry of Information, Kuwait, for funding it.
Katie Marsh, who directed preparations for the recovery operation in Baghdad and who was head of delegation during the operation, deserves all praise for her clear leadership and organization throughout, and unflagging diplomacy and strength in trying times. Manuel Keene, curator, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Dr. Robert Skelton, keeper of Indian Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Simon Roberton, photographer, provided professional support, occasionally surreal humor, and very good company, which made the team a pleasure to work with.
Many thanks to Artworld Shippers for its hugely impressive speed, efficiency, and long working hours in packing the two collections in Baghdad, and to Mrs. Sue Kaoukji and Abdul Kareem al-Ghadban for their work in receiving and storing it at the Kuwait end.