The conservator with a passion for art and cultural heritage

At first, she wanted to become an architect. But in the conservation programme, Stavroula Golfomitsou found the perfect combination of culture and science. As a Senior Lecturer, she ensures that research students expand their knowledge in everything from dirt to hefty metal.

It quickly becomes apparent that Stavroula Golfomitsou has a passion for cultural encounters and discussions. She refers almost unconsciously to various museum podcasts she listens to and brings up her own examples of cultural clashes around the world.

During her childhood in Greece, she had many opportunities to cultivate an interest in cultural heritage and its conservation. But in her profession – as a Senior Lecturer, doctoral supervisor and conservation researcher – she has primarily focused on Islamic art and culture. This included a six year spell living in Qatar.

How did you end up in Gothenburg?
Before I came here, I worked at University College London’s Qatar campus. While there, I had the opportunity to develop and work on a Degree of Master (60 credits) programme in Conservation. It was an amazing experience and very rewarding. But after six years I’d had enough because it was so difficult to become part of the society. I was ready to come back to Europe, and then I saw the ad for my current post. You always take a chance when you move to a new country. But it has been incredibly inspiring, especially meeting the students.

What is special about here?
In many ways, Sweden is my biggest cultural challenge to date. When I ask students here what they consider their most important cultural heritage, they almost always say “nature”. They want to pick something that isn’t man-made. This is incredibly fascinating and opens up many avenues of discussion.

How did you become interested in conservation?
As a student, I was interested in both science and art. Initially, I planned to study architecture. But when I found a metal conservation programme, there was something about the name that appealed to me. Then I happened to bump into a student in the programme, and I realised it was just right for me. Conservation studies was the perfect combination – getting to study art and cultural history from a scientific foundation.

What’s your specialisation in conservation?
My main research interest relates to how objects, primarily metal objects, slowly deteriorate. I’m currently studying the corrosion of different metals in outdoor art installations. For example, slow-rusting weathering steel (COR-TEN steel), as in Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East work located in the Qatari desert. Or silicon bronze as in the case of The Miraculous Journey by Damien Hirst in Doha. In the long-term, that knowledge could lead to new methods of protecting outdoor materials.

What else are you working on?
I’m also working on a project about how to clean cultural heritage buildings. The project is called “Coming Clean” and examines issues such as the decision-making processes in conservation. You might think that everyone has the same ideas about cleanliness and dirt, but there are big differences across contexts and cultures. There is still a lot to explore in this area.

Driving forces

What is your personal driving force in your work?
First and foremost, my love of art and cultural heritage. My curiosity has always governed my choices, my research and my career. I’m in this field to explore cultures and the significance that art and cultural heritage has for different people.

How do you cope with tough challenges?
Two things give me the strength to carry on in challenging circumstances. The first is being connected to people in different contexts. The second is seeing my students make progress and take their first steps towards successful international careers. Challenges are an opportunity for change and moving forward. In some cases, I’ve realised that being honest – with myself and others – is the only way forward. I also draw on the support of my wide network of friends around the world, and naturally that of my family in Greece.

Which people have meant the most to you?
Many of my professors, colleagues and students have been inspirational and vitally important to me. My professor in chemistry and materials science in Greece, Dimitris Charalambous, challenged my thinking and made me examine things more critically. The same is true of my supervisors, especially Professor Thilo Rehren, who became Director of UCL Qatar. His positive attitude towards teaching was absolutely inspirational. I’d also like to mention my classmates, especially those in London who have become lifelong friends, but also my other friends and family.

Stavroula Golfomitsou

Title: Senior Lecturer
Works at: Department of Conservation
Age: 48
Leisure interests: Art, museums, film, music and travel.