Student Conservators at Melbourne

2017 Konservaction

Konservaction – Disaster preparedness for museums in Bali

Striking a pose at Puri Lukisan: ‘Museum di Hatiku' (museum in my heart) is a government motto encouraging people to visit cultural institutions / Photograph by Konservaction

Striking a pose at Puri Lukisan: ‘Museum di Hatiku' (museum in my heart) is a government motto encouraging people to visit cultural institutions / Photograph by Konservaction



By Saiful Bakhri, Lisa Mansfield, Laura Gransbury + Alexandra Taylor

‘Fire, Fire! Is everybody safe?’… as Balinese conservators and museum staff actioned emergency response and disaster recovery plans for our fictional collection, the Director of Puri Lukisan Museum ensured all participants were safe. So began the disaster scenario in the second half of the student-led Disaster Planning and Recovery workshop in Bali, Indonesia.

But how did we get here? In December 2017 when Mt Agung was particularly active, Masters students from the Grimwade Centre flew to Bali to discuss Disaster Preparedness and Recovery protocols with cultural institutions which could be affected. When we first arrived, the volcano erupted and the airport was closed for 3–4 days. That was definitely an adrenaline rush! We kept safely out of the volcano’s way.

Prior to our program, we conducted a questionnaire to establish the scope of the project. Six of the nine museums we organised to visit stated that they had little-to-no disaster recovery or disaster response plan in place, and seven stated that they had no disaster response team. This aided the structure of our site visits, where we discussed with each cultural institution the importance of having a plan to safeguard collections, staff, and visitors from hazards.

Stone Sacrophagi at Museum Gedong Arca / Photograph by Konservaction  

On The Ground
Each day of the three-week project we met with directors, conservators and other museum staff for a tour and discussion on each museum’s collection. From these, we created tailored reports on our experience and included requested conservation information. From stability options for stone sarcophagi at risk from earthquake tremors, to pest infestations, to government support and suggestions to improve visitation numbers, we discussed the issues each museum identified as important to them, as well as the risks we identified at their museum (such as absence of fire extinguishers, or an emergency exit being an electrically-operated lift). It was a great two-way learning exercise!

The nine museums who participated are: Museum Gedong Arca (part of the Bali Office for Archaeological Heritage Conservation), Nyoman Gunarsa Museum, Batur Geopark Museum, Puri Lukisan Museum, Lontar Museum in Dukuh Penaban, Museum Bali, Le Mayeur Museum, Lukisan Sidik Jari (Fingerprint Painting) Museum and Balai Arkeologi. During the assessment period, each museum acknowledged their strengths and weaknesses; we found most needed assistance regarding preparation for Mount Agung’s volcanic and seismic activity.

Participants remove ash from timber and stone statues / Photograph by Konservaction  

Disaster Preparedness Workshop
Our project culminated in a one-day workshop. The first part included inter-museum discussions and the creation of draft outlines, so participants could generate disaster preparedness and emergency response plans. The cultural institutions had never met as a group before; so all were keen to discuss solutions for common problems such as earthquake activity, mould, disassociation, etc.

After the first part of the workshop, things heated up in the aforementioned disaster scenario! Working together to rescue mock collection objects participants used a catalogue to check and sort the significant items from the disaster debris, rinsed paper, and cleaned ash from timber and stone sculptures. We also demonstrated swab making and wet cleaning (not used in Indonesia).

Workshop disaster recovery in action / Photograph by Konservaction  

Student conservator Alexandra Taylor demonstrates wet cleaning / Photograph by Konservaction  

Traditional Indonesian Conservation Methods
Overall,the program was very insightful as we learnt about each institutions’ cultural approach to collections and conservation. This included traditional techniques and the use of locally sourced materials such as: Kelerak, a rare soap nut used by 14 museums across Indonesia to gently clean metal, and Sereh (lemongrass oil) for cleaning Lontar, ancient Hindu religious texts inscribed onto dried/cured palm leaves. 

At Museum Gedung Arca we were shown how to gently clean coins from the Balinese classical period. Kelerak nuts (60g) were soaked for half an hour in warm tap water, then placed in a mortar/pestle and macerated. The spherical nut was removed, and the retained skins were then placed in 250ml of warm tap water and soaked for a further half an hour, then sieved to remove skins. The liquid was placed into a glass beaker, coins were added and left to soak for 24hrs. This process is generally repeated 2 or 3 times as it is very gentle.  

Bali Museum conservator, Ari Sukma, demonstrated how to clean 100–400 years old Lontar using a 50:50 solution of alcohol and Sereh (lemongrass) oil. The oil is said to ensure flexibility while the alcohol helps prevent mould growth. A ball of cotton-wool was dipped into the solution, squeezed to remove excess moisture so it was practically dry, then wiped across the Lontar page in one direction only (from left to right).

Cleaning Lontar using Seerah (lemongrass) oil at Museum Bali  / Photograph by Konservaction  

Kelerak nuts with cleaned and uncleaned metal coins from the Balinese classic period  / Photograph by Konservaction  

After the project
Five of the six museums that took part in a feedback survey after the project expressed the desire to continue their relationship with the University of Melbourne, stating that Konservaction was an appealing project with the potential for further growth and development. The practical training part of our program was well received and we hope to continue this experience for other students and staff from Indonesian cultural institutions in the coming years.

We are very thankful to our mentors, Dr Marcelle Scott and Dr Nicole Tse, and to University of Melbourne for funding through a Student Engagement Grant. 

Follow @Konservaction on Facebook and Instagram!