Azra Bečević-Šarenkapa studied textiles at the Textile-Tehnological Faculty in Zagreb, Croatia and finished her Master of conservation at the Durham University in UK. Currently she is working as the Senior Conservator at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had a pleasure of sitting down with her and discussing her 17 year long contribution to many museums in Bosnia and the region.

Can you describe in brief the conservator's work?

The conservator's work is to conserve the object state the way that it is. The goal is to fix the damages with minimal interventions, in terms of adding new materials. Generally, it is all about stopping deterioration process.

image Azra Bečević-Šarenkapa at work / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Can you tell us something about the Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo?

The Department of Ethnology is divided in two parts, spiritual and material culture. The department of material culture, where I work, has different collections: the folk costumes collection, containing the costumes from cities and villages across all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the collection of individual parts of costumes like shirts, socks, caps, belts. From the collection of carpets, I need to point out the 17th-century Persian carpet. Other collections include textile home furnishings, jewellery, weapons and flags, business supplies, toys, crafts, urban, rural furniture and models. The artefacts are mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

How do you preserve different materials?

Generally, the approach to different materials should always be the same. First of all, one should have a respect towards the artefacts, from the basic use of the gloves, to other procedures. The same rules apply for all objects. My work is based on a principle of minimal intervention. Generally, I work with textiles. It is very important for that process to be reversible, meaning that everything I do is reversible to the original state.

image Azra Bečević-Šarenkapa at work / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Can you point out one artefact you worked on, that is special to you?

It is difficult to answer that question as each artefact is important for me. One of them is a carpet that I worked on when I started working at the Museum as a volunteer. Recently I have been working on the mantle, discovered during the excavation of the necropolis in Kopošići, near Ilijaš. The representatives of the Department of Archaeology from the Faculty of Philosophy found a garment dating around 1330. When I dug it out, I did the first cleaning and then the conservation. I have also worked on the flag from the Battle of Mohács, which belongs to the Museum of Tešanj and they received it as a gift from one family.

image One of the artefacts Azra Bečević-Šarenkapa is working on / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

What are your current priorities in terms of conservation?

There is no urgent matter at this moment. The artefacts are packed and stacked in the best way. My colleagues and me, we have done a lot to restore items that were displaced during the war. All artefacts that come out of the Museum's depot to be exhibited, when they are returned back, they must be first disinfected and then returned to the depot.

image One of the artefacts Azra Bečević-Šarenkapa is working on / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

What was the situation during the war? Have the artefacts been preserved properly?

It's a wonder that the Ethnology Department survived since we had a lot of exposed woodwork, as you know the National Museum was on the front line during the war. Inside, everything was more or less protected with sandbags. All artefacts were transferred to the Department of Archaeology as they had more space in the basement, and were a bit further from the front line. The jewellery collection was taken to the state bank for safekeeping. None of the artefacts were damaged during the war.

image The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

When it comes to conservation is there enough staff in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

No, Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have enough of conservators and this is one of the biggest problems. The reason why I came back to Bosnia is my love for Sarajevo and a desire to pass on to young generation what I have learned. Last year we have opened the first interdisciplinary conservation and restoration studio within the Academy of Fine Arts. I have worked at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Department of Archaeology, where I was teaching the protection of cultural monuments. There is a definitive need for more young people to work in this field.

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Department of Ethnology at the National Museum in Sarajevo / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Did you collaborate with other museums?

Together with my colleagues I am a part of ICOM BiH. For the past 17 years I am in constant contact with many museums, creating exhibitions as well as consulting.

When the National Museum was closed, I worked for smaller museums throughout the country. I worked on one tapestry from the 17th century at the Museum in Trebinje. I also worked with museums in Mostar, Tešanj, Kakanj, Historical Museum, Museum of Sarajevo, Bosniak Institute, and Gazi Husrev Bey Library. I worked for the Franciscan Museum in Fojnica, on their permanent exhibition, the Franciscan Museum in Livno and Tomislavgrad, as well as the museums across the region.

As a teacher, I volunteer in 'Conservators Without Borders' in London. For the past three years I am visiting Albania where I am teaching the conservation of textiles.

Thank you for sharing your experience with our audience.


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