Colleen Morgan on Prefiguration and Heritage

28 March, 2021
Colleen Morgan has now published a response to a discussion of the concept of prefiguration in relation to contemporary cultural heritage practice to which I had contributed last year.
 
Great to see when our past work on heritage futures inspires some unusual and beautiful responses that encourage us all to think more and, quite possibly, act better.
 
From her conclusion:
“There will be Neolithic burial rites, a rally, and a puppet show. … We will cry, we will laugh, and we will demand accountability and change, and the end of Empire.”
Morgan, Colleen. 2021. Save the Date for Future Mourning: Prefiguration and Heritage. Forum Kritische Archäologie 10:1–5.
 

 

 

 

What is digital sustainability?

25 March, 2021

Monika Stobiecka (Faculty of Liberal Arts, Warsaw University) gave an interesting lecture entitled Digital sustainability: what happens when we digitize everything? It was part of a series of lectures organised to mark 20 years of Sustainable Heritage at UCL.

She asked some pertinent issues linked to the notion of digital sustainability:

  • digitisation is maybe not always worth the money it costs!
  • should we stop mass digitisation and invest in high-quality projects instead?
  • we need to learn to let go of established institutions like traditional museums!
  • lets collaborate more with gamers!

Here is the full abstract of Monika’s talk:

The last few years have shown that in heritage policy all over the world priority has been given to digitization. International, national, and regional authorities and academies generously support researchers and technicians working on digital heritage. Almost everything considered valuable is registered, stored in databases, or presented in museums, and finally, saved for posterity in various digital formats. However, this ubiquitous turn towards the digital that has taken over heritage studies still lacks a proper theoretical and critical framework. Many authors notice this severe theoretical lack, which often leads to techno-fetishism, particularly visible in projects where researchers, following the fast-science track, indiscriminately collect more and more data by applying the latest methods, to create more and more representations, reconstructions, simulations, or even simulacra. All too often, digital heritage is based on a simple problem-solution mechanism, dismissing the ethical implications. It is high time to think about the future of digital heritage and repeat the question posed by Harold Thwaites: what happens when we digitize everything? (Thwaites 2013). Or go further and ask: what are the ethical implications of this mass digitization – will the digital replace the material? In my presentation I will discuss if digital heritage can be sustainable, and if the practice can be slow and thoughtful, instead of fast and managerial. My questions will embrace aspects of digital heritage related to digital materiality, energy use, and accessibility and public use. My speech will be illustrated with the preliminary results of a study on Polish digital and virtual collections. Throughout my talk I will investigate the future of digital heritage. Assuming that we are witnessing digital heritagization, I will ask further about the implications of this preference for the digital for sustainable heritage development.

Reference:

Thwaites, H. 2013. “Digital Heritage: What Happens When We Digitize Everything?” In Visual Heritage in the Digital Age, edited by E. Chang et al., 327-349. London: Springer- Verlag.

European Cultural Heritage Green Paper

22 March, 2021

Today, I have been attending the launch webinar of the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper with a high-level panel including Mariya Gabriel (European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth), Teresa Patricio (President of ICOMOS), Hermann Parzinger (President of Europa Nostra), Dace Malbarde (MEP, Vice-Chair of Committee on Culture and Education), Andrew Pots, (Coordinator of the Climate Heritage Network and main author of the Green Paper), and almost 600 attendees. Mariya Gabriel reiterated that culture and heritage are part of “the soul of Europe”.

The paper was initiated because the European Green Deal turned out not to make substantial references to culture or heritage.

My question to the panel was this: 

To what extent is cultural heritage not just an asset for the European Green Deal but might also be a liability? How should cultural heritage policy and management develop to maximise the opportunities and minimise any risks for the future?

This is the sort of question we need to ask as and when we think seriously about heritage futures. Andrew Potts acknowledged the problem in his reply, stating that “culture informs the current unsustainable consumption and production patterns. So culture is a part of the solution and a part of the problem.”

Heritage and the Sustainable Development Goals

17 March, 2021

Now published:

Labadi, Sophia, Francesca Giliberto, Ilaria Rosetti, Linda Shetabi, Ege Yildirim (2021). Heritage and the Sustainable Development Goals: Policy Guidance For Heritage And Development Actors. Paris: ICOMOS.

A remarkable document in many ways! Here is one interesting comment, for example (which may have been inspired by some of my comments on a draft version):

At the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), we strongly believe that heritage can play a key role in addressing the SDGs, but more work is needed to understand and address the potentials and challenges that link heritage to each Goal. The Policy Guidance document is the first step in addressing this gap. It illustrates where heritage can make a positive contribution and be leveraged by all actors in the heritage and development fields to improve policy and practice. It also addresses the challenge points where heritage practices might be at odds with sustainable development objectives, with the awareness that more in-depth studies and debates are called for in future outputs of the SDGs Working Group.

More research is needed indeed!

Free review copies available

13 March, 2021

We offer 10 free paperback copies of the following volume for review:

Cultural Heritage and the Future. Edited by Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg. 300 pp. Routledge 2021.

Drawing on case studies from around the world, Cultural Heritage and the Future argues that cultural heritage and the future are intimately linked and that the development of futures thinking should be a priority for academics, students and those working in the wider professional heritage sector.

Click here for more information about the book and the opportunity of open access to the editors’ comprehensive introductory paper on “Cultural heritage as a futuristic field”  (select “preview pdf”).

10 review copies (sent free of charge) are now available to emerging professionals from the Global South (low- and middle-income countries). If in doubt apply and make a case. To qualify for selection send a short text (max 1 page) stating who you are and why you are interested in reading the book.

Reviews should offer a critical assessment rather than mere description, be 500-1,000 words long and submitted within three months of receipt of the book. Manuscripts will be copy edited, may be shortened, and have to comply with normal publishing requirements. We welcome critical reviews and will edit for clarity and length but not for content. Submission of your manuscript implies our (non-exclusive) right of publication on a dedicated webpage created by Linnaeus University including full acknowledgment of your authorship. Access to all reviews will be from here.

–> Send your application to unesco-heritage-futures@lnu.se by 16 April 2021.

Dossier on Nuclear Energy in Die Presse

10 March, 2021

Cornelius Holtorf was interviewed by Konradin Schuchter about long-term memory regarding nuclear waste disposal sites for an article published as part of a Dossier on Nuclear Energy in the Austrian daily national newspaper Die Presse (9 March 2021).

Another interview partner was our collaborator Martin Kunze of the Memory of Mankind initiative.

Schuchter wrote, among others:

Der Archäologe Cornelius Holtorf von der schwedischen Linné-Universität ist der Meinung, dass es unmöglich ist, vernünftig vorauszusagen, welche Bedeutung unser atomares Erbe für zukünftige Generationen haben wird. Holtorf verfolgt die Debatte rund um die Atommüll-Endlagerung schon seit einiger Zeit und ist auch in unterschiedlichen Expertengremien zu dem Thema vertreten. Er betont, dass die Bedeutung nicht im radioaktiven Material selbst liege, sondern, dass sich diese immer erst durch den interpretativen Rahmen des Rezipienten konstituiere.

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).