In November last year I was asked by Sumbul Khan from the British Council Pakistan, who was over in Edinburgh for our ICH symposium, to consider being a speaker at a conference. From this I found myself funded by the British Council to travel to Lahore to speak at Pakistan’s first major International Heritage and Museums Conference which took place 1-3 September 2016. I was part of a distinguished speaker list, largely from the UK, but also involving colleagues from Pakistan.
We were welcomed on Wednesday 31 August after an early morning arrival and were whisked off to the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) to view the amazing heritage restoration projects they have implemented throughout the city. It was a fantastic opportunity to see their work, but also to gain a little taste of the rich intangible heritage of this wonderful city. We were taken into the city by a posse of brightly coloured TukTuks and then proceeded on foot, and were met with enthusiasm by locals, many stopping to take photos of the delegation.
We were given a tour of the heritage projects including the Wazir Khan Mosque and the beautifully restored 16th Century Shahi Hammam, a city bathhouse now open to the public with spaces available for events. Our welcome dinner was held at the Hamman, complete with great performance from local musicians.
We had packed days on the Thursday and Friday held at the contemporary building of the Alhamra Arts Council, all of which was filmed and reported by Pakistan’s media. In fact, when I switched the television on back at the hotel that evening, there we were, playing back the day’s events! We had a keynote from Duncan Wilson at Historic England relating people and place throughout his work, followed by a great session on Faith and Heritage with our very own NMS speaking about their Young Roots project and inspirational projects in Birmingham and Woking. The afternoon session was enhancing community and public participation with Historic Environment Scotland taking centre stage, but also learning about groundbreaking heritage work in the KPK region, with its very specific challenges of working in a conflict area.
We were supposed to go to a dinner hosted by the Vandals that evening, but the monsoon intervened and after trying to get through for two hours in the buses through the flood we gave up and returned to the hotel.
The Friday morning continued with the same theme of community with the British Museum outlining their community partnerships and the National Army Museum in Chelsea telling us about their WW1 project on the Indian army. Jasdeep Singh from the National Army Museum had brought a 100-year-old camera, the same as carried by soldier in WW1, to record our visit to Lahore. A moving presentation from Monmouthshire Museums Service and Cardiff University focused on the risks and benefits of conservators in communities. This was followed by audience development, with inspiring work from Qatar Education and Cambridge University Museum. Diane Walters presented on her work in the Balkans and internationally on people with disabilities in museums. Finally, we had Glasgow Museums presenting on the Open Museums and a great project called Colourful Heritage.
After lunch it was my turn presenting on our inclusive and participative approach to ICH in Scotland. This was met with many questions and interest in our work. I then facilitated the final session with regional directors from Pakistan Museums looking at what next with some interesting and at time challenging questions.
That evening we had a wonderful visit at sunset to the Lahore Fort and the Princess Bamba Collection. This was very much the foundation of the Sikh ruling dynasty so an emotional visit for our Sikh delegate who received a blessing. Our final dinner was hosted by the Information Technology University. Saturday brought sessions on digital technologies and the final feedback session all of which was very positive from our delegation.
Pakistan was surprising, rich colourful, incredibly vibrant and somewhere I would love to return to. There are challenges but the scale and quality of the heritage deserves to have a worldwide audience.
Joanne Orr, Chief Executive, Museums Galleries Scotland