ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Heritage and art between state ideology and grassroots activism
Location Victoria Rooms Recital Rm
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 14:30


Chiara De Cesari (University of Amsterdam)
Rozita Dimova (Ghent University)
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the relationship between heritage, art and their politics. Focus is on examining this relationship beyond taken-for-granted dichotomies, and on illuminating the ways in which heritage and art participate in both forms of dominance and projects of resistance.

Long Abstract

This panel explores the relationship between heritage and art by examining their complex articulations. Saliently rooted in and affected by politics, art and heritage become sites where state ideologies and grassroots activisms are produced, shaped and disseminated. Bearing this in mind, the primary objective of the panel is to investigate this relationship in a variety of diverse, contemporary contexts. We would like to critically interrogate the view that heritage and art represent radically different approaches to the material world, one focusing on conservation, the other on change. By stressing the practices that they share, such as representation, interpretation, recontextualization, and display, we would like to reveal the blurred boundaries between the two domains, emphasizing how heritage and art lie at the crossroads of tradition/modernity, continuity/change, and conservation/creativity. In addition to questioning the art/heritage dichotomy, our goal will be to analyze the complex politics surrounding and informing this alliance. While the protection and valorization of a "distinctive" heritage has become a central concern of national and transnational cultural policies targeting not only tourism promotion, but also socio-economic development and post-conflict reconciliation, our fieldwork research discloses how heritage and art can be mobilized by both projects of exclusion and projects of emancipation. As we investigate the multiple ways in which the two participate in forms of dominance (e.g., producing orientalist images, reifying the state or affecting the spatial politics of neoliberalism), we will also emphasize that heritage and art can turn into important sites of grassroots cultural resistance.

Discussant: Victor Buchli, Ian Hodder

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The poet on the bridge in the biblical land: brand-nationalism and art festivals in the Republic of Macedonia

Author: Rozita Dimova (Ghent University)


By following Adorno's (1970) argument that art is always contingent and rooted in the social conditions of the system where it emerges, this paper foregrounds the public side of art manifested through two art festivals and their critical role in producing and disseminating the ideologies of "multiculturalism" and "national archaism" in the contemporary republic of Macedonia. By examining the Ohrid Summer Festival and the Struga Poetry Evenings, I underscore the construction of boundaries that delineate the symbolic "beginning" and "end" of Europe, antiquity, and Christianity. I assess the ways in which these events forcefully emphasize the ancient and "biblical" character of the town of Ohrid in particular, and the Republic of Macedonia in general, by drawing primarily on its antique and Christian (Byzantine) architectural legacy. By analyzing these two festivals, I contend that art and festivals are not only contingent and rooted in the social conditions, but also become battlegrounds where the ideologies of inclusion and exclusion are produced and disseminated in the wider political and popular discourses of the Republic of Macedonia and Europe.

Creative heritage: Palestine's new past between nationalism and transnationalism

Author: Chiara De Cesari (University of Amsterdam)


Beyond the common sense dichotomy between art as radical practice and heritage as conservation and hegemony, this paper analyzes contemporary Palestinian heritage as the ambivalent terrain where these two practices meet, creating a language that is both locally rooted and transnational. By examining the recent Palestinian art biennale, which placed a strong emphasis on the country's vernacular past, i.e., the traditional Arab Palestinian house, I show how art in this context functions as the platform for different kinds of national commemorations and the tool for the preservation of tradition, while heritage provides a site of creative cultural production. The biennale also undermines a traditional dichotomy between heritage and counter-memory for, as I argue, it represents both an act of anti-colonial cultural resistance and part of a state-building project. Eventually, my ethnographic material will point out to the ways in which the global heritage discourse—in spite of its Eurocentrism—can be appropriated and manipulated locally in the service of different projects and with effects well beyond the local.

From resistance to heritage: 'cosmopolitan deviations' from socialist realist architecture and the making of 21st century Warsaw

Author: Michał Murawski (Queen Mary, University of London )


Polish architecture in the first decade after the Second World War was characterized (especially after 1949) by the supremacy of socialist realism. Architecture was to be 'socialist in form, national in content' and modernist buildings were routinely condemned for their 'formalism' and 'cosmopolitanism'. After 1989, but especially during the past several years, these very modernist 'deviations' are being celebrated as examples of an architectural 'resistance movement' against socialist realism. Many buildings from the 1950s are being painstakingly renovated to restore their faded 'avant-garde' glamour. Architects, critics, journalists and developers are citing these buildings as examples of Polish architecture's 'innate' embeddedness in international (or western) architectural 'trends', unshaken even in the face of 'imposed', 'totalitarian' (or eastern) aesthetico-political 'doctrines'. Moreover, the rebirth of Warsaw's 1950s modernist architecture is bolstering the notion that contemporary Warsaw is in the process of re-becoming a cosmopolitan, global city. These bastions (or 'Trojan horses') of modernity and 'worldliness' are being enlisted in attempts to construct a heritage for this new Warsaw, to prove that this is the kind of city it 'always was' at the core. Consequently, resistance and dominance are fused: the buildings which are being lauded as the physical embodiments and agents of historical 'defiance' are simultaneously being deployed to construct a heritage testifying to the 'naturalness' and historical continuity of a burgeoning, late capitalist, global Warsaw.

The Monument Group - the politics of memory

Author: Damir Arsenijevic (Tuzla University, Bosnia and Herzegovina)


The goal of the Monument Group (Spomenik) is to discuss the wars in the 1990s and the (post-)war collectivities in former Yugoslavia. Through this space we produce a Monument that neither follows the ossifying politics of monuments nor the models of reconciliations between subjects. The Monument that we create is in the process of becoming and is composed of the collective (people and material objects) whereby each entity defines its own political position.

This presentation will address the politics of memory promoted and practiced by the Monument Group. We proceed from the premise of the impossibility of memory: what we cannot remember reveals what we cannot forget. Hence, we interpret the syntagm 'politics of memory' as a demand for a renewal of politics. Stated in the negative form, we claim: There is no memory without politics! / There is no oblivion without politics! The Monument Group views the impossibility of actual memory, that is, the impossibility of forgetting, first of all, as an impossibility of constructing an actual political subject. Without a political subject, it is possible to have only a private and historical memory that remains deadlocked within the gap of 'neither oblivion nor memory'. In the case of the genocide committed in Srebrenica, 'neither memory nor oblivion' is the result of a two-fold ban that precedes it: national socialism's ban on thinking politics and the ban on producing a political subject in actuality, that is, the hasty reduction of the actual politics of genocide to historical national socialism.

From dust to dust (and back again): claims of culture in heritage times

Author: Dante Angelo


Following the 2001 economic crisis, Argentinean society was shaken in its very foundation as a homogeneous modern nation and forced to turn its nostalgic sight to cultural links to the rest of the continent. The 2003 inclusion of the Quebrada of Humahuaca in northwestern Argentina on the World Heritage List, turned this, once-marginal, region of the nation-state imaginary into a cornerstone of reconfiguring the very notion of the Argentinean self as part of the larger scenario that conforms to Latin America. Through a combined use of archaeological, historical and ethnographic methods, my work elaborates on the argument that the construction of heritage constitutes a new arena of contention in which different interests are at stake. In addition to the state and global interests aiming to capitalize on 'difference' as part of new economic alternatives prompted by tourism and heritage industries, this 'heritage fever' also constitutes a platform for the re-emergence of indigenous communities keen to challenge historical exclusion through cultural re-vindication while claiming to be part of a cosmopolitan, dynamic and changing world. I contend that the contradictions and dissonances observed in the different strategies manifested in the display of material culture (art, craft, architecture) expressions and performative aspects (pilgrimages, rituals, deeds), blur the binaries commonly related to notions of heritage, craft and art, and also bring the concepts of modernity and tradition under a new light.

Creative memory and local involvement of North African musicians in London

Author: Marie-Pierre Gibert (Université Lumière Lyon 2-EVS)


By following the trajectories and networks of various North African artists based in the United Kingdom and in France*, it became apparent that a common phenomenon of migrant musicians is to be trapped in a matrix which simultaneously articulates three potentially conflicting dimensions: the artists' own musical pleasure and desires; their professional constraints and opportunities; and the social, historical and personal context of their migration experiences. However, artists have developed strategies which permit them not only to overcome such tensions arising from this matrix, but to use them as a strength. The aim of this paper is to explore two particular aspects of the above-mentioned strategies. Firstly, the process of 'creative memory' in which artists go beyond the apparent antinomy between preserving a so-called musical heritage and developing their own artistic path, is illustrated through the example of the London based band MOMO (Music Of Moroccan Origin). Secondly, the use of local politics to pursue their own cultural, social and political agendas is demonstrated through the activities of a newly born association ('North African Arts'). Whilst musicians and/or musical promoters are well aware of the ambiguous ways in which local politics often regard arts as a mean to promote both multiculturalism and community cohesion rather than to support artistic creation per se, some of them have also understood the strategic potential of their involvement in such actions.

* This multi-site ethnographic fieldwork conducted since 2007 is part of a wider research project funded by the AHRC research programme Diasporas, Migration, Identities (

Contemporary art practice vs heritage politics

Author: Albert Heta (Stacion - Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina)


Heritage as a new tool for domination and colonization has been noted. Only countries with no heritage are saved from this complicated and concealed weapon against progress. That is why I can say that I hate heritage and walls—old and new. Politicized heritage is against the people living around it. This can also be used as the definition of a struggle that is going on in the country that defines Future Europe. Kosova is an international project and an activist force (Vetevendosja! movement), using contemporary art as practice and visual communication, which clashes with the project solutions that use heritage as a tool to control and expand territory—the future of a project-country and its people. These solutions and projects kill people and de-humanize monuments of common heritage and turn them into power monuments of the past. Power monuments are turning back the clock. Images of the Middle Ages and antiquity now are our reality. The difference is that now we can see what is going on, or can we?

e-paper Culture, heritage and gender in Afghanistan

Author: Carol Mann (SOAS, University of London)


This paper seeks to map out the main problems regarding the preservation of heritage in Afghanistan, taking into account various local constructs of genealogy and gendered identity. Basing myself on Charles Lindholm's and Akbar S. Ahmed's pioneering articles, I will argue that colonial policies of the British Raj helped mould a contradictory Afghan model, interiorised by the Afghans themselves, quite in the keeping of imperial politics elsewhere as described by Benedict Anderson. The icons produced by the Empire contributed to a set of impracticable founding myths in which women are conspicuously absent, with far reaching consequences today, even within World Heritage policies of which a critique will be offered in the present paper.

In Afghanistan, it is very hard to talk about a national culture in an essentially pre-state tribal society where ethnic allegiance far dominates any identification with some kind of nebulous nation and its still more incomprehensible past. The vast rural majority of its population (some 80%) feel completely excluded by the dominant discourse on culture, which goes long way in explaining the Taliban reaction at Bamyan. Furthermore, any contribution of women to the various cultures in Afghanistan has always been overlooked and/or ignored. This paper reviews attitudes to female creativity and explains propositions on how to include women in a wider definition of culture as well as heritage policies in this area. The management of the Anatolian site of Çatalhöyük will be offered as a possible example to follow in the region. The political limitations of museumification' policies will be described in relation to the destruction of the statues at Bamyan and how World Heritage strategists need to display greater sensitivity to local issues and values.

This article is based on field work intermittently carried out in Pakistan and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2006.

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