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Museums and intangible heritage: towards a third space in the heritage sector
On 26 February 2020, the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Project is hosting its Concluding Symposium in Brussels. The conference offers a public forum for key stakeholders from the fields of intangible heritage and museums, such as heritage practitioners, museum professionals, policy makers, academics and representatives of transnational networks. They will be summarizing the theoretical and practical insights that have been pooled throughout the years of cooperation in Europe around the topic of ICH and Museums since 2017. Based upon the IMP Project, future-oriented recommendations and methodologies for both policies and practice will be launched.
When intangible cultural heritage and museums meet, numerous opportunities come about. For example, museums can enrich their object-based collections by including testimonies and practices relating to living, intangible heritage. Heritage practitioners and communities, on the other hand, can gain a wider audience, and can benefit from museum documentation and preservation expertise in order to safeguard their particular branch of intangible cultural heritage.
At the same time, intangible cultural heritage and museums can also appear at odds with each other, raise debate, or even bring about fields of tension. For example, how can museums avoid the trap of “freezing” intangible cultural heritage in time by integrating it into more static collections? How may we assure that heritage practitioners and communities are sufficiently being heard in display settings? What are the best ways to bring audiences into the museum, allowing for participatory experiences, yet avoiding the commodification of intangible heritage?
Over the past three years, the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Project (IMP) has tackled these and many other questions, and explored the interaction of museum work and intangible heritage practices in a comparative European context, with Werkplaats immaterieel erfgoed (Belgium), Kenniscentrum Immaterieel Erfgoed Nederland (the Netherlands), Maison des Cultures du Monde – Centre français du patrimoine culturel immateriél (France), SIMBDEA (Italy), and Verband der Museen der Schweiz / Bundesamt für Kultur (Switzerland) as partner organizations. They collaborated with ICOM International, ICH NGO Forum and NEMO – Network of European Museum Organisations, and were among others supported by the European Commission’s Creative Europe Programme, the Flemish Government, and the Swiss Federal Office of Culture. The project’s five previous meetings took place in each partner country, focusing on intangible cultural heritage, museums and diversity (Rotterdam, NL, 2017), participation (Palermo, IT, 2018), urbanised society (Bern, CH, 2018), innovation (Aubusson, FR, 2019) and cultural policies (Mechelen, BE, 2019). These conferences featured in depth theoretical contributions, workshops, artistic co-creations, numerous discussions and many inspirational testimonies from the fields of museums and intangible cultural heritage.
Prof. Amareswar Galla is the keynote speaker at the symposium. He will talk on the “Discursive Encounters in Liminal Spaces“. Full schedule here.
Heritage – natural and cultural, material and immaterial – plays a key role in the development of sustainable cities and communities. Goal 11, target 4, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), emphasizes the relation between heritage and sustainability. The conference inquires into the theories, methodologies, and practices of heritage and SDG. It asks: How is heritage produced and defined? By who and in what contexts? What are the understandings of sustainability, and how are these situational and contextual? How can theoretical findings on heritage and SDGs engage with heritage practice?
The conference builds upon the multidisciplinary expertise of academics in the humanities, social sciences and spatial sciences, notably the interdisciplinary cross-over research program Design & History@TUDelft, the active collaboration in the Heritage and Identity section of the LDE-Center for Global Heritage and Development (CGHD), heritage-related research conducted at Leiden University, as well as by other associated partners in the consortium.
The Design & History@TUDelft research program brings together different departments and disciplines: architecture, urbanism, history, landscape architecture, real estate, and management and engineering. Design & History@TUDelft aims to further understanding of the role of history and heritage in the transformation of cities, and consequently using the past to enable buildings, cities, and landscapes to develop more sustainable, resource-efficient, resilient, safe and inclusive. Researchers from Leiden University approach heritage from a broad variety of disciplinary perspectives, such as archaeology, museum studies, cultural anthropology, and area studies. Leiden heritage research explores processes of heritage making, and the appreciation and valuation of material and immaterial heritage, to arrive at new insights towards the cultural constitution of societies. Creating, acknowledging and contesting heritage tends to be politically sensitive, as it involves assertions and redefinitions of memory and identity.
This conference creates a setting for academics and heritage-practitioners to explore these questions from distinct angles. We aim to bring academics and practitioners into the conversation to further their understanding of and impact on heritage conservation, and to increase their impact on the sustainable development of cities and communities. For the conference schedule, click here.
Prof. Amareswar Galla is a keynote speaker at the conference.
From iconic monuments to sites of social justice, the 2020 World Monuments Watch includes 25 sites that marry great historical significance with contemporary social impact.
Prof. Amareswar Galla is on jury for the 2020 World Monuments Watch. For details of the 25 sites, click here.
Telangana Bouddha Sangiti is organizing a International Seminar on Buddhist Archaeology from 15-17 November 2019, in Hyderabad, India. Professor Amareswar Galla, Ph.D. is an Invited speaker on UNESCO 1970 Convention and Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property.
Click here for Full Schedule.
The Twelfth International Conference on the Inclusive Museum features research addressing the Special Focus—Museums, Heritage & Sustainable Tourism from 7 -9 November 2019 in Muntref, Museum of immigration, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Professor Amareswar Galla, Ph.D. is the Chairperson for the Inclusive Museum research network. Detailed program here.
The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is organizing a Working Conference on Critical Developments in Cultural Sustainability in Washington, DC, USA, from 23 – 25 October 2019. As part of the Sustaining Practice Track, Professor Amareswar Galla, PhD, an Invited expert on Intangible Heritage will talk about Village India: Safeguarding Contextual Intangible Heritage.
A Capacity Building Studio workshop on Curatorship: Concept, Design, and Practice, was organized from, 5-7 October 2019 in HCM City, Vietnam by the Department of Culture and Sport, Asia Europe Foundation and the International Institute for the Inclusive Museum. The workshop was facilitated by Prof Dr. Amareswar Galla.
The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was created in 1970.
We asked Professor Dr. Amareswar Galla, the Founding Executive Director of the International Institute for the Inclusive Museum (http://inclusivemuseums.org/) to share his views on its status and implementation in India. He has worked on the implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention in 49 countries including all the sub-regions of the Asia Pacific.
Question: The Member States of UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, in November 1970. (Hereafter 1970 Convention) Do you think further efforts are needed to increase its acceptance as well as strengthen implementation by its States Parties?
It is a significant Convention that is often located on the access of the Global North and the South. Where there is a hand to buy there is a hand to sell. I have argued consistently that poverty is also one of the main factors that need to be addressed in relation to this Convention. It must also be addressed with in the UN Agenda 2030.
Illicit traffic of all kinds, especially cultural property is rarely bilateral and mostly multilateral. In order to minimize it we need every member of the UN to become a State Party and to have compatible national legislations and develop appropriate national policy frameworks that could be implemented with relevant capacities and capabilities.
Question: In view of the recent demand in cultural artefacts in India, has there been an increase in its illegal trade? Why do you think the issue is still not much talked about?
In July 2003 a historical joint Parliamentary Forum was convened in New Delhi at the Parliament House under the program – Parliamentarians for Human Development. I addressed it as a keynote speaker arguing that the commitment and actions of India as a State Party to the 1970 Convention were critical as the country’s cultural property is being looted. During the Forum one of our major concerns was the illicit traffic from Afghanistan and Iraq that was across the borders of the region. I held up major catalogues of auction houses which featured stolen and illegally acquired cultural property from India and the region.
The telling point was made by a major supplier from Mumbai when she said over lunch that the Parliament can do what it wants but they cannot stop the traffic. She underscored the point that Indians really did not care.
It was obvious compliance was only part of the implementation and that it was hard to monitor in a large country. Far more important is advocacy and awareness raising. Not just in the major cities, but most importantly at the state and local government levels. Media, especially social media needs to play a major role in India. India needs to participate proactively to affirm its commitment to the 1970 Convention and play a strategic role within the country, the region and beyond.
Question: India is a signatory to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but how have the central laws helped to prevent loss and damage to arts and antiquities, in the country. What do you think are further urgent steps that the Government needs to take?
India has the requisite compliance measures to minimise illicit traffic in cultural property. However, the scope of cultural property needed to be broadened from the predominance of focus on ‘antiquities’ as understood from a bygone era. For instance, industrial and craft heritage is often looted in India for export – vintage cars to parts of locomotives and even significant parts of ginning mills and weaving looms. While working on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway soon after its inscription on the World Heritage list, we found out that the DHR badge or insignia was a collectible that was often removed to the UK.
Temples and various places of worship are targets for the looters. But most of the items in such places is rarely inventoried and accounted for. Similarly, sacred objects stolen from tribal communities are recognised as being significant for rituals, initiation ceremonies and spiritual well-being among indigenous communities, especially for intergenerational education and immersion of children and youth.
In the past two years India has been receiving artefacts that were illicitly removed in the past, often voluntarily returned by Heads of Government as good will gestures. This is within the context of bilateral, a kind of soft power approach in global geopolitics and improving trade relations. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. For every return there are thousands that are stolen through various channels.
India is spending considerable resources on digitisation of collections in national heritage institutions. This is different from inventorying. Digitisation is a means to and not an end in itself. inventorying and preventive measures are needed at the site and local institutional levels.
India has been spending resources on cultural mapping. But at a national seminar I convened last year in Amaravathi, it was obvious that the majority of the funded organizations and project consultants are not heritage or collection conscious of the tangibles. Cultural mapping needs to be better understood and used as a tool for safeguarding heritage of all kinds. Mapping should lead to strategic planning. One of the outcomes could be the protection of the movable heritage of India.
Question: What are your recommendations for enhancing the understanding and international cooperation to combat the illicit traffic of cultural property, especially among the countries with shared borders with India, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan?
Prevention of illicit traffic of all kinds is multilateral. It is rarely bilateral. Borders are porous. Third country transit from the source to destination is common and difficult to prevent without multilateral cooperation. In this context regional collaborations are critical. At the turn of the century, I ran a series of workshops for the ten countries of Southeast Asia in partnership with ASEANPOL and Customs and UNESCO to develop a strong regional network. ASEAN Heritage Charter Provided a useful framework in Southeast Asia. A similar approach should be undertaken through SAARC Collaboration as a starting point, but we must be conscious that illicit traffic is far more global.
The Dhaka and Kandy Declarations on Culture by SAARC provide the broader framework. A regional workshop I conducted in Sri Lanka with SIDA funding emphasised the need for a regional thesaurus of heritage terminology that could be provide a shared understanding of object nomenclature between heritage agencies and police and customs. OBJECT ID training is needed at all levels using such tools. Even though OBJECT ID not a substitute for inventorying, it could be a starting point. UNESCO could play a very important role in the subcontinent. But it is up to the State Parties to the 1970 Convention to mobilise to safeguard their heritage assets.
I strongly recommend that India could take a three-pronged approach.
Given the vast extent of the country’s heritage, it would help if there is a national, state, territory and local government cooperation and coordination through a taskforce to establish a distributed national collections system. It could have portals at the national and regional levels that are integrated. These need to be secured from use in illicit trafficking.
Secondly, greater collaboration is needed with Interpol, WCO, ICOM and UNESCO through appropriate capacity building. This should include not only the ability to inventorise but also communicate. I have advocated for years that the information about stolen objects should travel faster than the objects so that they could be intercepted closer to the source or provenance. I recently looked at the INTERPOL database and found out that several stolen objects that are registered at the local police stations rarely reach the INTERPOL.
Thirdly, a massive awareness campaign is needed in the country. It needs to be strategic and informed. Media has an important role to play. To date, not a single law faculty in India teaches International Heritage Law. This is no different from the specialised museum and heritage studies courses. There is no facility for building the capacity of administrators or police and customs personnel. The 1970 Convention along with the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention as well as return, repatriation, restitution and due diligence need to be grounded in all curricula.
Capacity building at all levels, rethinking and adding depth and substance to cultural mapping, launching an informed national awareness campaign and reinforcing compliance measures are possible within the envisaged cultural budget for the next five years.
The stories sites tell are universal. The dangers they face are immense. The cultural treasures that have been entrusted to us are under constant attack by time, neglect, natural forces, and human actions. Preserving this heritage has—from the beginning—been the overriding mission of World Monuments Fund, as they work with local partners around the globe to provide financial and technical support for preservation, restoration, and long-term stewardship. The Review meeting will be held from 18 – 20 August in USA. Prof. Galla is in attendance as an External Selection Panel expert member for the final stage in the review and selection process for the 2020 cycle of the program.
Ecomuseums and Regional Museums
Regional museums strive to serve their regional/local communities. How can regional museums be active as responsible partners in respecting, preserving and interpreting traditions of cultural and natural heritage? Regional museums can be responsive and collaborate with experts across different fields, collecting both intangible and tangible heritage – to represent people whose voices have not always been heard, especially in preserving customs and traditional practices related to natural resources. Regional museums should expand the field of museum studies to cover ecological issues of the past, present and future, building on traditions of planting, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry etc. and effective management of the cultural and/or natural environment for a sustainable future. Prof. Galla is the Rapporteur on 5th September for the daylong session on Ecomuseums and Regional Museums Seminar Day.