Intangible Cultural Heritage “Information and Awareness Raising Event”, Agios Nikolaos, Crete 5/4/2017

Working on the UNESCO Frictions project, I attend Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) related events in Greece. This event was organised by the Directorate of Modern Cultural Assets and Intangible Cultural Heritage (DMCA&ICH) of the Ministry of Culture and Sport in collaboration with the Region of Crete – Lasithi Regional Unity and with the support of the Cultural Associations of the Prefecture of Lasithi.

“The event [was] addressed to local authorities of Eastern Crete (municipalities, development companies, etc.), national and cultural associations and local folklore, historical and other museums and archives of the island, as well as those involved in the recording and study of the folk culture and traditions of Crete, but also to anyone interested in it.

On Wednesday 5/4/2017 [they had] the opportunity to discuss the various aspects of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Eastern Crete, the possibilities offered by the [2003] Convention for the promotion of these cultural traditions and their use for the benefit of the sustainable development of the local communities.” (DMCA&ICH website)

The locals replied to the invitation arriving from much earlier to the room and very soon many people were standing at the back since all the chairs were full. The event began with the Director of DMCA&ICH, Ms Villy Fotopoulou, presenting the 2003 Convention as well as how the DMCA&ICH implements the Convention. Soon after representatives of local ‘communities’ who are preparing a submission or already submitted an element to the DMCA&ICH for inscription on the National ICH lists, presented their work. This provided an example to other ‘communities’ on how to collaborate in order to also draft their own nominations for the inscription of their cultural elements on the National Inventory of the ICH. A few other presenters followed an alternative strategy and presented the actual elements and not the nomination procedure. The audience welcomed both presentation formats and stayed until the end of the event which closed with a brief discussion of the audience with the presenters.

This event was an opportunity for me to come in contact with Cretan cultural associations that engage with the implementation of the Convention. This first contact has already shown some ‘frictions’ between the various interpretations of the Convention by the various participants. These frictions will be explored further in following posts as the Greek part of the research project will start to unfold.

China’s Great ICH Wall…

About one month ago, I arrived in China to study Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) as part of our UNESCO Friction project. It is about time to take a stock of some of what I have encountered and found so far. This is of course not to be taken as a well-thought-through or fleshed-out summary. I am merely pooling together some random thoughts and experiences. In a nutshell: I have come across a lot of references to ICH, but I have rarely had the chance to see what really lies behind them. Or more metaphorically, it has been a lot of “bark” and not too much “bite”. I have had the feeling that there is a “Great Wall” protecting not Chinese ICH itself, but the process of defining, selecting and protecting it; I have been coming across (or running against) this invisible “Wall” many times already; it is embellished with banners telling us what lies behind it, but prevents us from ever really seeing it or getting to it and thus understanding how ICH protection really works in China.

Over the past weeks, whenever people asked me what I am doing, I would say that I am studying “ICH in China” followed, if necessary, by a brief explanation of what ICH is (supposed to be). I would then usually get a reaction along the following lines: “there is simply too much of it (ICH) in China,” “China has such a long history and rich tradition, ICH is such an essential part of our country,” “China is a great cultural power” (文化大国)” etc. etc. Explaining what ICH means seemed like a cue for people to ascertain that ICH and China are like chalk and cheese, they simply belong together. ICH, loosely defined as being about “tradition,” “culture,” and “cultural practices,” is indeed found everywhere. One encounters it all the time in everyday life; and, evidently, even more so, when one actively looks for it. Since I arrived in China, there has not been a single day on which I did not discover a new website or WeChat account dealing with something related to ICH. There are shops, museums, badges, signs, brochures and so on that all allude to something “old,” “traditional” and “cultural”, sometimes explicitly using the ICH label, sometimes not. Just yesterday, I walked out of my compound to buy a few groceries, when I came across a small shop selling “Dezhou Braised Chicken.” Underneath the sign “德州扒鸡,” it reads “National-level Intangible Cultural Heritage” (国家级非物质文化遗产). (See photos below).

When asked why they advertised their products with the national ICH slogan, the shopkeeper referred to the long history and the fact that Dezhou braised chicken is famous. A standard answer; but it is undoubtedly true that Dezhou braised chicken is known by (I would imagine) over 80% of China’s population, which, in turn, makes one wonder why the shop feels the need to emphasise/add to the “value” of a well-known product with a label that many people are not so familiar with.

In any case, the point is that ICH is indeed everywhere in China, one finds it at every corner. And this is not least a result of the government’s heavy promotion of heritage in general and ICH in particular. Since 2006, for instance, the second Saturday of June each year marks the “Chinese Cultural Heritage Day” (since 2016, it is referred to as “Cultural and Natural Heritage Day”), when all of the country’s heritage—cultural, natural, intangible—is celebrated and further engrained in people’s minds (officially, the day exists to “increase society’s awareness of heritage protection” 增强全社会的文化遗产保护意识). 

Getting a glimpse behind this facade, behind these slogans, banners and behind the constant talk of “tradition” and “culture”, however, has turned out to be challenging. I have been searching for a “VPN” to “jump the great ICH wall” of China. But it is just as it is with connecting to a VPN on my computer: not impossible, but extremely difficult, time-consuming and requiring patience.

An Urban Neighbourhood is Trapped in Transformation: The Past and Present of Old Qingdao (城市空间的转型困境:青岛老城区的历史与近况)

By Philipp Demgenski

Public talk given at the Research Centre for Land and Cultural Resources at the Department of Cultural Heritage and Museology of Fudan University, China.

The talk was the seventh in a series titled “Fudan Cultural Heritage Preservation Series”. 5. April 2017 at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.

The talk was given in Chinese and addressed the problems revolving around a run-down inner city neighbourhood in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao that was not so long ago rediscovered as a place of historical and cultural importance. So-called experts have been calling for the preservation of its “tangible” artefacts, namely the architectural remains. The talk questioned the distinction between “tangible” and “intangible” by focusing on how the neighbourhood, its architecture and spatial composition had specific meaning and “use-value” to different predominantly disadvantaged urban groups. The talk also highlighted that the neighbourhood itself is an evolved urban entity whose value is to be found in its transformation over the past century, a transformation that is still ongoing. Finally, the talk addressed some more fundamental issues pertaining to urban development and so-called “preservation-oriented redevelopment” projects in China.

A summary with photos can be found here (in Chinese).

Participatory frictions across ICH global governance: The Brazilian channels of community participation

By Chiara Bortolotto and Morena Salama.

Presentation of the paper at the panel  “Imperatives of participation in the heritage regime: statecraft, crisis, and creative alternatives” (Cultural Heritage and Property Working Group).

This panel took place at the 13th Congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore- SIEF2017 titled ” Ways of dwelling. Crisis craft and creativity” (Gottingen, Germany – 27th March 2017).

 

“Participation” of “communities”, keywords of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, are far from being globally understood in the same way. These global buzzwords compromise with national and local institutional approaches to heritage management, with existing national legislations, political priorities as well as with available technical skills and academic corporations. The first part of this presentation introduces the project “UNESCO frictions: heritage-making across global governance” which ethnographically follows the social life of the UNESCO Convention across the different scales of its implementation in China, Brazil and Greece and explores the tensions arising in the translation of the imperative of participation imposed by an international norm into national heritage institutions and local projects.

In the second part the attention is drawn to the Brazilian case study.  We will focus on the main channels created by the Brazilian state in order to foster the participation of communities in the implementation of safeguarding processes that take place after an intangible element is officially declared “National Cultural Heritage”. These participative tools are: the constitution of deliberative committees, the drafting of safeguarding plans and the “shared management” of public cultural centres.

Drawing on the safeguarding process of the samba de roda we will illustrate the controversies, limitations and achievements triggered by these participative channels while exploring the issues that have been challenging the application of the participative call of the ICH Convention on the ground.

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.