Placing ICH, owning a tradition, affirming sovergnity: the role of spatiality in the practice of the ICH Convention

Chiara Bortolotto, « Placing ICH, owning a tradition, affirming sovergnity: the role of spatiality in the practice of the ICH Convention », in P. Davis et M. Stefano The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage. London & New York, Routledge, 2016: 46-58

The 2003 Convention has opened up new scenarios in the representation of heritage as it defines it in ethnographic rather than topographic terms (Hafstein, 2007, p. 93). By positioning ICH expressions in relation to communities rather than places, the 2003 Convention shifts away from territorial definitions: ‘intangible cultural heritage means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage […]’ (UNESCO, 2003, Article 2). In avoiding a territorial definition of communities,1  it establishes an ‘open’ relationship between heritage, communities and place whereby community membership is not ‘naturally’ established by local roots, thus promoting dynamic representations of culture and identity. This, however, clashes with the political mechanisms of the Convention, based on negotiations between States bent on promoting national interests, as well as with the identity and economic uses social actors make of heritage, often depending on precise geographical delimitation of cultural resources. In this chapter, I explore the tension arising from these two ways of making sense of space based on an ethnographic study of the international arena in which the 2003 Convention is implemented.

UNESCO at the Chinese New Year parade in Paris

On February 5, Europe’s biggest Chinese New Year’s parade took place in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. In preparation of my upcoming fieldwork on Intangible Cultural Heritage in China, I ventured out into the crowds to take a look. Chinese New Year (itself commonly celebrated as the epitome of lived traditional culture) among diasporic communities would most certainly offer a colourful array of traditional cultural practices. And I was not to be disappointed. What I encountered was indeed an intangible cultural heritage feast, a carnivalesque potpourri of colourful costumes, martial arts, dance, singing, religious rituals, cultural exchange and also a bit of politics. Several groups that were part of the parade performed or displayed cultural elements that are part of the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. What particularly caught my attention was the members of the Association of Fujianese in France (法国福建会馆) who were moving a small Mazu (妈祖) shrine on wheels along the parade. Mazu is a goddess of the sea and thus particularly worshipped in coastal regions (for more on Mazu, see here and here). The Mazu Beliefs and Customs were submitted to UNESCO by China and inscribed on the Representative List in 2009. I was surprised to see two eye-catching yellow banners (one on each side of the shrine) proclaiming the fact that Mazu is included in the UNESCO World (Intangible) Heritage List (see image). Notably, the word “intangible” is only mentioned in Chinese, but omitted in French. The claim is evidently wrong because Mazu was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Heritage, which is very different from the World Heritage List and there is no such thing as a “World Intangible Heritage List”. But nitpicks aside, the interesting question is why the Association of Fujianese in France evidently regarded it as important to use the UNESCO label at a Chinese New Year’s parade in Paris. Why was that piece of information necessary? Why indeed was it so prominently displayed on two fairly big banners on either side of the Mazu shrine? Was it a way to stand out among the many cultural practices, the dragons, the snakes, the costumes that after a while seemed to blend into and become indistinguishable from each other? Was it going to add any cultural capital to the display of Mazu (culture) at the parade?

mazu_ich

Well, perhaps it means nothing at all. But the fact that the Fujianese were the only group that used the UNESCO label at the parade seemed at least peculiar. And it certainly hints at what may be waiting for me in China in terms of the many ways in which the UNESCO ICH Convention impacts cultural practices.

Les politiques de l’UNESCO, quelles répercussions sur les projets de restauration ?

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Institut national du patrimoine, Séminaire de recherche

30 janvier 2017, INP, 2 rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, salle Champollion, 18h15

Chiara Bortolotto, Anthropologue, responsable du projet UNESCO frictions : heritage-making across global governance, et Claire Bosc-Tiessé, historienne de l’art, chercheur au CNRS, affiliée à l’IMAF (institut des mondes africains), co-directrice du projet archéologique et historique « Lalibela »

UNESCO FRICTIONS : explorer la fabrique globale du patrimoine culturel immatériel

Cette intervention présente le projet UNESCO frictions : heritage-making across global governance. A partir d’une discussion des travaux existants sur l’Unesco et ses effets, nous allons introduire la démarche adoptée dans ce projet collectif visant à suivre la vie sociale de la Convention pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel dès débats diplomatiques dans les salles de réunion de l’Unesco à la mise en œuvre de projets patrimoniaux à l’échelle locale dans trois pays (Grèce, Brésil et Chine) choisis comme études de cas en fonction de la diversité de leurs régimes patrimoniaux nationaux. Pour dépasser l’opposition entre « norme globale » et « réactions locales » et explorer la fabrique globale du patrimoine, nous proposons d’interroger la tension créative qui surgit lorsque des régimes de patrimonialité spécifiques doivent se confronter aux principes proposés par une norme internationale.

Master « Ethnological expertise Intangible Heritage »

Roda de Capoeira in Salvador, Bahia. Photo: Pierre VergerThe University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès has launched a new master programme. UNESCO frictions is part of this project.

Here is the web site of the master

On November 23-24 Morena Salama, postdoctoral researcher at UNESCO frictions, will give the seminar:

Inventorying, proclaiming, assisting and promoting: the complementary lines of action of the Brazilian safeguarding regime.

The Brazilian safeguarding policy started to be structured just before the drafting of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the safeguarding of ICH. This pioneering role rendered a different focus to the Brazilian safeguarding regime. Instead of targeting into the international heritarization, such as the inscription of elements in the Representative List of the 2003 Convention, the Brazilian state has been concentrating its efforts on the proclamation of the Brazilian cultural references as National Cultural Heritage (a process called locally as “Registry”) and on the implementation of safeguarding measures after the national heritarization takes place.

By the time Brazil ratified the 2003 Convention, the participative shift introduced by this international treaty found a fertile terrain to be developed. Since then the main lines of action of the Brazilian safeguarding regime – inventorying, proclaiming, assisting and promoting, – have been implemented aiming at increasing the level of participation of the bearers’ communities, so they can become the “protagonists” of their own safeguarding process.

This course explores how this participative approach has been put into practice in the country. Initially these main lines of action will be examined as complementary steps of the same safeguarding process. Subsequently several concrete cases will be analysed and compared with the view of identifying how the bearer’s communities are involved in each case. The safeguarding processes to be presented are: the craft of ceramic pans of Goiabeiras; the Kusiwa graphic art, the samba de roda; the craft of baianas de acarajé; the Taper of Our Lady of Nazareth, the Yaokwa ritual, the capoeira and the fabrication of the viola de cocho.