By Waqar Gillani writing for the News on Sunday
The expansion of Lahore Museum according to international standards, is yet to be seen. The old Tollington Market on The Mall which was decided to be used as an extension of the museum, is still locked..
The Tollington Market renovated a couple of years back, was formally inaugurated last year by the then governor. Only a lane divides the two buildings — Lahore Museum and Tollington. The Board of Governors (BoG) of the museum, in its 47th meeting, decided to set up a ‘City Museum’ in the Tollington Market, approving that the artefacts of national museum from the city could be shifted to this place. The board came to the conclusion that Tollington Market was the most suitable place for extension of the museum because of its proximity to the Lahore Museum and approved a subway to connect the Lahore Museum with Tollington Market.
The idea was to get the space to display its over 40,000 artefacts which are lying in the inventory for lack of space. They were scheduled to be displayed at the city museum at Tollington Market after its opening in September 2007. The Lahore Museum has over 60,000 artefacts in its possession. Since the museum did not have enough space, only 20,000 artefacts are on display there.
The Lahore Museum is there since 1894 and is considered one of the major museums of South Asia. The museum — one of the most visited place in the city, is also the biggest museum of Pakistan. It contains a huge collection of antiques and artefacts from the Stone Age to the Pakistan Movement.
The Information, Youth and Culture department of the Punjab government and the Lahore Museum had been supervising renovation and conversion of the market into a museum.
However, the mission could not be accomplished as the Tollington Market is still closed due to some ‘repair’ work needed there, an official of the museum told TNS. He added that the place is only opened for some important and exclusive exhibitions only. The reason is seepage in the roof and walls of the market and lack of security there, TNS learnt from the government officials. “Strict security measures are required in case the museum is extended to Tollington, to ensure the safety of artefacts,” the official said, indicating that this was also one of the reasons for not opening the place yet.
More importantly, TNS has learnt from the federal government officials that the former Standing Committee on Culture in the National Assembly also prepared a report on the museums of Pakistan in 2007. The committee headed by former MNA, Attiya Inyatullah, found that all the 13 museums and heritage preservation sites of Pakistan including Lahore Museum were a case of ‘nothing but neglect’.
Attiya, talking to TNS, said the report was prepared with special consideration to improve the standards of the museums of the country. The report, she said, had found the museums, especially Karachi museum, in complete neglect. However, she termed Lahore museum comparatively in better condition as compared to museums located in Sindh.
“The report highlighted that all of the museums need upgradation,” she said, adding, “The museums also need a protected, controlled temperature, close circuit television cameras, professional preservation, proper treatment of artefacts, use of internationally recognised techniques of presentation, trained museum guides, pilferage and recurring cost.”
She expressed that the purpose was to make the museums highly attractive. However, claiming the sitting government almost ‘non-functional’, Attiya was sure that the new government would not have done anything in this connection. “Keeping in view the country’s scenario, I am sure that nothing will be done to implement the report,” she feared.
Punjab Secretary for Information, Youth and Culture Orya Maqbool Jan Abbasi talking to TNS, seemed kind enough to openly admit the fact that museums of the country including Lahore Museum were not as per international standards.
However, Orya — not only a bureaucrat but also known for his love of art, culture and heritage — gave TNS a ray of hope telling that the new Punjab government was seriously considering the plan to improve the condition of Lahore Museum and to reorganise Tollington Market place and make a proper ‘City Museum’.”
The recent plan, now, is being envisaged with the cooperation of the Smithsonian Institute of United States of America (USA), whose team is coming to Lahore in the first half of November to help the Punjab government establish and design a state-of-the-art museum,” the official told TNS.
Orya Maqbool Jan, who has also been serving as director general of the Punjab Archaeology Department, further told TNS that the Punjab government was also considering to shift the newly formed City Museum to some proper place in the Walled City and to use this Tollington place as extension of the national museum.
“For this purpose, the Punjab government has also recovered the four kanal encroached piece of land situated behind the Tollington Market,” he said, adding, “The Smithsonian Institute delegation would provide consultancy service to the Punjab government in designing the museum, using that recovered piece of land.” He added that this place would be used for proper display of the over 40,000 artefacts of the Lahore museum hidden from view for lack of space to display them.
A small delegation of the Smithsonian Institute is expected in Lahore in the first week of November. According to the information available with TNS, the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex and research organisation, has 19 museums, nine research centres and a national zoo.
Kamil Khan Mumtaz, a noted conservationist, talking to TNS said, “there were plans to extend the museum to Tollington Market and display the reserved artefacts there but that has not been done yet.” He said there was no problem in using Tollington Market for the purpose. However, the government must value the cultural and historic urban precincts of these sites. “This part of the city which includes Town Hall, Government College, Punjab University Old Campus, National College of Arts, Museum and also Tollington Market, is culturally very rich and its architecture should not be changed.”
Dr Ajaz Anwar, a former faculty member of National College of Arts and a reputed conservationist, however, has a different view. Talking to TNS, he said though the Board of Governors of the museum had approved to take over the museum a couple of years back and had approved construction of the subway to connect the Lahore museum and Tollington, the decisions were made without professionals’ input.
“We are against the extension of Lahore Museum,” he said, adding, “We want the restoration of Tollington Market as it was in the past.” He said that the present space for Lahore Museum was definitely insufficient. “However, the government should continue with this small museum at this place and construct a bigger museum on a large piece of land somewhere else in Lahore. Extension of Lahore Museum in Tollington Market would mar the beauty of both historic archaeological sites,” he said.