Tankefigur Utopia

3 March, 2021

Maja Heuer har skrivit en fri spåning kring olika möjligheter vad Världsarvet Örlogsstaden Karlskrona skulle kunna bidra med till samhället 2050. På uppdrag av Unescoprofessuren skapade hon en kreativ vision inför en möjlig framtida utveckling av Världsarvet i Karlskrona.

Kolla och fundera: hur ska det bli? Vilken framtid för ett världsarv? Vad har vi världsarven egentligen till för?

Future heritage and fashion design: Rwandan traditional culture in the global market

2 March, 2021

Heritage studies might be forgiven for ignoring fashion shows in favor of museums and historic sites, but there’s something to be learned from the runway, too. Recently, the Rwandan fashion house Moshions launched a new ad campaign:

Moshions, based in Kigali, was founded in 2015 by Moses Turahirwa. On the company’s website, you can find contemporary men’s and women’s wear alongside bespoke and traditional clothing, including the iconic imishanana. Even on ready-to-wear, everyday fashions, details echo Rwanda’s traditional art and cultural forms, such as black and white geometric patterns also found in imigongo artwork or in basket weaving, an inspiration to the company’s designers. Moshions is a “culturally inspired fashion brand [which] uses traditional culture motifs with roots in Rwanda,” business manager Dany Rugamba told me.

Moshions isn’t unique in adapting traditional culture to contemporary fashion. But their “Future Heritage” campaign is interesting, and not just because it seems specifically tailored to catch the eye of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. Moshions aims, as the campaign says, to “bridge the past with the future”: to bring traditional culture into conversation with what is happening today in Rwanda, and what might happen there—and elsewhere—in the years to come. When I spoke with Dany, our conversation showed the tension between specificity and vagueness, in both time and space, that must be negotiated in mobilizing traditional culture for a global market.

Imigongo patterns.

Dany told me that Moshions is pursuing a strategy of “timelessness”: “50 or 100 years from now,” he said, they hope that “our pieces would still feel relevant at that time.” The idea of timelessness in fashion, common to designers who seek a continuing appeal, echoes ways in which “traditional culture” has also been framed. As the anthropologist Johannes Fabian famously argued, anthropology’s object—historically, this meant non-Western, allegedly “primitive” societies—was once cast as a “timeless other.” Instead of recognizing all cultures to be continually changing and adapting, those viewed as traditional were also seen as trapped in the past. Stripped of their history, these cultures were “timeless.”

But in reality, no culture is timeless, and neither is the traditional culture that Moshions uses in its designs. We can learn about the deeper past of what is now Rwanda through disciplines like archaeology, but this deeper past somewhat predates what is generally thought of as “precolonial Rwanda,” whose material traditional culture is preserved in places like the Ethnographic Museum. As the historian Jan Vansina points out in Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom, the Rwanda that we know today “is the product of the expansion of the culture of the Nyiginya court that began in the eighteenth but occurred mainly during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (p. 198). “Pre-colonial Rwanda” and its associated traditional culture, as used in the heritage sector and in popular interpretations, usually indicate life as dated to this period—when Rwanda was coming together as the nation whose descendants live there today—right up through the early years of colonization, which began with the arrival of German colonizers in the 1890s.

So Rwandan traditional culture as it’s widely understood, and as it’s adapted through fashion design, is time-bound itself. But the illusion of timelessness is the illusion of an enduring appeal: a promise of persistent relevance. And, even if the traditional culture that Moshions draws on has a specific temporality, the company is trying to mobilize it in the interest not of a return to the past, but of a move into a future grounded in historical legacies while not limited by them.

Moshions’ Mwimba dress.

This attempt to avoid being trapped in a highly specific vision of “traditional culture” is paralleled by how Moshions handles its geographic context. While the cultural motifs that they draw on for inspiration are frequently Rwandan, Moshions deliberately markets its products to both a Rwandan and a global audience. Who, I asked, constitutes its target market? “Anyone who is a fashion enthusiast,” Dany told me: anyone from young, hip Rwandans, to members of the diaspora interested in connecting with their roots, to the broader pan-African market and the rest of the world. With the possible exception of Moshions’ explicitly Rwandan traditional wear, the market is geographically and culturally inclusive, but the price points—108€ and up for a men’s shirt—clearly indicate that it is largely internationalized.

Selling to this market puts pressure on the extent to which Moshions can utilize or rely on noticeably Rwandan motifs, especially if, as Dany said, they want customers who buy things “because they’re beautiful, not just because they have a story.” As a company, Moshions doesn’t want its designs to be tokenized as “Rwandan,” in other words, or to appeal mainly to foreigners who are looking for the exotic. Instead, they hope to contribute to a global conversation about fashion by developing designs which are rooted in an interpretation, or a transformation, of a specific culture. “We want to represent Rwanda, absolutely, and [get people to] know about Rwanda one way or another,” Dany said, but “we don’t want to make it feel very limited or very exclusive,” either. “Without feeling very nationalist,” he said, he hoped that Moshions could “position Rwanda on an international level and for a global image.”

Moshions’ Umwitero shirt.

This attempt to avoid being pigeonholed as limitedly Rwandan illuminates the bind for African designers. “We don’t usually like to say [we are] ‘African’ fashion designers, because at the end of the day we are all fashion designers irrespective of where we come from,” Dany commented; “we are part of the world. We are part of exploring what’s happening intercontinentally.” As a result, he said, Moshions’ designs preferred subtler visual references to Rwandan culture over the use of styles like the iconic wax prints which sometimes stand as a visual shorthand for Africa. These choices and the pressures which inform them illustrate how easy it is for African designers and artists to be trapped by tokenism and stereotyping into a narrow space, rather than fully participating in a global conversation, and how strategic their artistic and marketing responses are forced to be in response.

A wax print.

Operating in an international market, Moshions is walking a fine line. They aim to not be limited by being perceived as exclusively Rwandan, while also not allowing that Rwandanness to be diffused to the point of becoming invisible. Their orientation toward the years to come is a vision of continued relevance achieved by evoking the “timelessness” of traditional styles but adapting them for an unbounded, global future.

This measured level of specificity in both time and place is perhaps what allows Moshions’ clothes to appeal to a wider market: they are intended to be unique enough to be interesting, but not so particular as to be alienating. The conversation Moshions is having about heritage is not just a discussion of fashion and design, but also an engagement with the possibilities and the difficulties of using traditional culture in a globalizing world.

Light from darkness: Reminding forgotten heritage

1 March, 2021

To start a dialogue about the long-term oppression and reminding forgotten heritage of the Baluch community (an ethnic group living mainly in southeastern Iran and Pakistan), I tweeted a thread (in Persian) about a man called Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi, who we interviewed in 2017. The thread was seen on Twitter 300344 times, was interacted with 104350 times, liked 6991 times (also liked 40740 times on Instagram and seen on Telegram), and was shared by many independent Persian media. Baluch people have been the subject of oppression and discrimination for more than six decades. Years of discrimination have resulted in complicated economic and social issues.

The unrest erupted on 22 February in Saravan city, southeast Iran, after police forces shot local fuel traders who transfer fuel to Pakistan for a very small amount of money. Internet and phone lines are partly cut off, and the news people can spread from the region is strictly limited. Regarding the unrest in Saravan, it is of note that the ethnicity (Baluch) and religion (Sunni) of the protesters have been regarded as a threat by the government for years. In this regard, groups of people, as well as some politicians, media agents, and even opposition figures, started to reproduce labels such as ‘threats to the nation’ and ‘smugglers’ against Baluch protesters on social media.

The difference between the unrest in remote places with the unrest in the big cities is that the authorities have propagated for years against the various ethnicities and communities living in those areas and have labeled them the threats to national security. The long-term propaganda against diversity has deprived the Iranian people of their historical national feeling. According to the notion developed by some thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin, ancient people living in Iran and also in the Arab world cherished an ancient type of integration which can be elucidated under the name of ‘national feeling’. Seemingly, the modern governments, alongside colonialism, ruined the ancient integration by endorsing the nationalistic agenda, which ignores diversity.

Omran Garazhian and I had a project to examine diversity in the Museum of Zahedan(center of Sistan and Baluchestan province)and have met and interviewed local tribal chiefs, intellectuals, and ordinary people while working at the museum. The project was finally stopped by the authorities. Nevertheless, our investigations gave us an opportunity to encounter and study an unknown culture.

I believe that historical, non-nationalist thinking can be invoked in current political debate with the purpose of the liberation of the oppressed. So, I tried to open up a discussion about the forgotten heritage of the Baluch people by reminding Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi and his services. He was one of the decision-makers on behalf of the Rigi tribe in the mission for reviewing the India-Iran border after the independence of Pakistan. Mullah was ignored by authorities after the 1979 revolution due to his religion (Sunni), ethnicity, and close relations with some agents of the Pahlavi regime (1925-1979). When we met him, he was 96 and lived in a very small room in a marginalized district in Mirjaveh city. His careful work in the mission reminds me of another forgotten heritage, the historical warriors of the same ethnicity who stood against British colonialism.

According to the comments, many people were particularly enthusiastic to know about the process of oblivion and ignorance of the Baluch anti-colonial warriors and tribes. it seems that speaking about the forgotten heritage of oppressed communities might prepare the ground for the rise of more discussions about the governmental nationalist approach and the long-term oppression of cultural diversity in Iran. Besides, there are still many questions: Has the tweet been seen because it mentions the borders of the nation or because it mentions a person who has the potential to be recognized as a national hero? Or, in contrast, was the tweet seen so many times because it revealed a long-term historical ignorance?

Without further dialogues with ordinary people, these questions will be left unanswered.

Photo: Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi, 2017 (photo by Leila Papoli-Yazdi)
Leila Papoli-Yazdi is a visiting researcher in the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, Linnaeus University.

Interview with Cornelius Holtorf

26 February, 2021

Now available: Britta Rudolff’s interview (27 min) with Cornelius Holtorf on “heritage futures”, recorded as part of Britta’s teaching in the Introduction to Heritage Site Management Masters course at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg (28 January 2021).

“Heritage And Our Sustainable Future”

23 February, 2021

I am attending this week and next the digital conference “Heritage And Our Sustainable Future: Research, Practice, Policy and Impact“, organised by the UNESCO Commission for the UK and attended by an audience or more than 300 people from around the world. Ernesto Ottone (Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO) contributed with an introductory note.

In a discussion on heritage in relation to disaster response and resilience, Joe King (ICCROM) agreed with my call for more ethnographic research on what heritage actually does in societies by suggesting that we need to build capacity among heritage managers to learn that heritage conservation is not always part of the solution in conflict situations but can also be part of the problem.

Similarly, Charlotte Andrews from Bermuda suggested that maybe the community could be asked what they want to be restored and what not, as there could be benefits from some destruction too, which we saw recently in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Swedish TV news – Warning the people of the future about nuclear waste

5 February, 2021

Swedish TV news programme last night broadcast a reportage about long-term memory preservation in relation to nuclear waste repositories . They focused mainly on future archaeology, and the piece featured interviews with Erik Setzman (SKB, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company) and Cornelius Holtorf, professor of Archaeology at Linnaeus University and holder of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures.

Although it is in Swedish, you may still be able to catch the gist of it from the pictures including the historic video clips they found and the simulations (!).

The programme is available at  https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/sa-ska-framtida-folk-varnas-for-karnavfall 


nuclear warning sign of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Photo: This nuclear warning sign of the International Atomic Energy Agency may be crystal clear to people like us. But the various symbols on a red background inside a triangular sign may not unambiguously communicate to distant future generations why this particular legacy of our time should be approached with caution.

The Future in Heritage Studies

4 February, 2021

Cornelius Holtorf was invited to present a digital lunchtime seminar on “The Future in Heritage Studies and its Future” at the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre, University of Cambridge (4 February 2021).

For an audience of almost 70, Holtorf reviewed the significance of the future in heritage studies, arguing that the anticipated needs and benefits of heritage for specific future generations have very rarely been explicitly addressed or critically discussed. As heritage is increasingly linked to the Agenda 2030, the significance of the future in heritage studies becomes ever more important and a critical engagement with this notion and its meaning is urgently needed.

The UNESCO Chair om Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University attempts to make a difference in that respect by building global capacity for futures thinking among heritage professionals.

Forskning, kunskap och museer i museilagens Sverige

18 January, 2021

I The Journal Nordic Museology 2020:2 publicerade Anders Högberg tillsammans med Klas Grinell artikeln: Perspektiv: Lagstadgad kunskap. Om svensk museipolitik och forskning.

Vad betyder museilagens betoning av kunskapsuppbyggnad för museers forskning? Hur ser relationerna mellan forskning, kunskap och museer ut i museilagens Sverige? Artikeln redogör också för i vilket sammanhang museilagen tillkom.

The Journal Nordic Museology 2020:2



Prof Anders Högberg UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

Professor Anders Högberg UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

Målarboken – Arkeologi idag finns nu i svensk version

12 January, 2021

Målarboken Archeology Today som gavs ut förra året finns nu även i en svensk version. Den visar hur arkeologer arbetar idag med nya tillämpningar. Åsikter och idéer som uttrycks i denna målarbok är författarnas egna. De delas inte nödvändigtvis av UNESCO. Författare: Cornelius Holtorf (text) and Daniel Lindskog (illustrationer). Tack till Riksbanken Jubileumsfond för stöd.

För nedladdning http://lnu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1512695/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Den engelska versionen kan beställas som print eller laddas ner http://www.archaeopress.com/ArchaeopressShop/Public/displayProductDetail.asp?id={B75F45BA-A140-442F-ADCB-6568EAB2CC8C}

What is the point of time capsules?

1 January, 2021

Jason Feifer recorded an interesting podcast on “How to Communicate With the Future” (45 min). Feifer is sceptical about time capsules and other such endeavours to send messages to the future. Among others, the podcast contains an interview with Jon Lomberg, designer of the Voyager Golden Record launched in 1977. 

Feifer argues that time capsules are not much good for what they purport to achieve and mostly a way of helping ourselves finding meaning and patterns in our own present. What we should do instead of constructing time capsules and other messages to the future is to build a better world today so that future generations do not need to receive any additional information because they already have what they need from us.