Under Raking Light: Dr Sadra Zekrgoo

In a Gathering first, we’ve got a son following in his mother Mandana’s footsteps by going under the raking light. That’s one clever family!

Who are you and what do you do?
I am an art conservator (paper) and researcher specialising in Persian inks and manuscripts. I have recently completed a PhD in materials conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

If not conservation/preservation, then what?
Prior to working in the field of conservation I was a graphic designer, and I think if I wasn’t working in conservation I would still be doing graphic design. Either that or stand-up comedy!

Describe your current project.
The project I have been working on for the past few years (and as part of my PhD thesis) looks at the history, manufacture and non-invasive analysis of Persian writing inks. I examine instructional manuscripts written by master calligraphers from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries, extract ink recipes and translate them, reconstruct the inks and then differentiate them through non-destructive methods of analysis such as Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrograph, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and my personal favourite, false colour imaging techniques like FC-IR and FC-UV and pseudocolour.

IMG_9294 3 edit__01Pinny or white lab coat?
White lab coat.

Bone or Teflon?
Bone for burnishing and sanded-down Teflon for delaminating.

What do you think is underestimated in conservation?
The amount of research, consultation and planning that goes into treating an object.

When you tell people what you do for a living, they…
Either compare me to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.

What piece(s) of equipment would you buy first in your new dream studio?
A multispectral camera.

What do you think would be an apt anthem for conservation?
Fix You by Coldplay.

Who’s coming to dinner (three, living or dead) and what would be on the menu?
David Bowie, Eddie Izzard and Salvador Dalí. Menu: Beef Bourguignon, Ghorme Sabzi (Persian Stew) and chocolate mousse for dessert.

The gloves: on or off?
I prefer gloves off and handling with clean hands, as it allows me to get a feel for the texture of the substrate more easily.

If you could give just one piece of advice to a new conservator, what would it be?
Be creative. While museums and highly established conservation labs have most of the equipment and standardised material and methodology to treat and preserve works of art, many smaller labs and private practices do not. You need to find creative and innovative ways to treat and preserve objects.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of conservation?
I hope that there will be more opportunities for new graduates to work both in the conservation industry and in the research sector. I fear that more conservation courses will be closing down since universities are putting on pressure to attract more students yet, not enough time, staff and funding are available to properly teach hands-on treatment methods.

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