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Heritage — a road map for defining goals

October 23, 2017

LAHORE: Development for the sake of development is the psyche of a cancer cell, that we humans should avoid as we should first be very clear about what we want to develop and to what end.

The thought-provoking views were expressed by Kamil Khan Mumtaz of the Lahore Conservation Society during a panel discussion on heritage conservation on the second and concluding day of Heritage Now on Sunday at Alhamra, The Mall.

The session was moderated by environment lawyer Rafay Alam.

Mr Mumtaz, castigating reckless development-driven planning, says development should be taken as a process as it can’t be a goal.

He says heritage first needs to be identified for preservation as it includes all the values, beliefs, practices that define who we are and where we are coming from. “Only then we can decide where we want to go,” he adds.

Challenging modern development paradigm, he says,”We are in the mist of global crisis (caused by this development paradigm) that is destroying our planet and the humanity.

“Heritage provides the road map that helps us define our goals, if you lose it you become headless chicken spilling a lot of blood and going nowhere,” he says.

Salimul Haq of department of archaeology, who was head of Comsats Institute of Heritage Study (Sahiwal), lamented failure of those concerned to evolve a comprehensive national inventory of monuments in Pakistan.

He said the first law on monuments in the sub-continent was introduced by the British in 1904 who, according to their own perception, divided the local heritage in three categories. He said the conservation of the monuments in the first category was their top priority and so on. He deplored that even after the independence, “we kept following these categories instead of reevaluating our heritage.” By the time the country introduced first legislation - The Antiquities Act-1975, many monuments had been lost to ravages of time and plunder by locals who were unaware of their importance.

In this connection, he cited example of Kulra Fort in Fort Abbas area from where bricks were plundered by locals to build their own houses. He said there should have been interventions in curricula in order to sensitise youth to the importance of heritage.

He also deplored inaction on the part of the government with regard to checking construction in the buffer zones around monuments like Jahangir’s tomb and Shalamar Gardens. He said because of this [criminal] negligence these precious monuments could not find a place among Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.

He lamented that many important monuments in south Punjab were either in a bad shape or had just vanished.

Eleni Gelkas of Boston Architectural College, US, talked about her institution’s collaboration with the National College of Arts curriculum development, online courses and cultural exchange programmes.

In the light of her experience of heritage research in New Mexico, she said Ekma people were proud of their heritage but had no concern regarding its preservation. He said such communities needed to be sensitised to “historical integrity of a building”.

She also shared her experience regarding her work at Nasa’s Apollo 13 Mission control room which has been turned into a heritage site, by preserving even the articles like ash trays and coffee mugs used by the staff during the hectic days of man’s first journey to the moon.

“Every [archaeological] site has a story and these stories deserved to be told,” she concluded.

Aurore Didier, who worked with French archaeological Mission in Indus Basin, narrated his experience in Mehargarh in Balochistan. He said he was astounded to see how developed that civilisation was and by the artifacts excavated from Chanhu-Daro in Nawabshah district of Sindh. He stressed the need for capacity building of communities in areas around such monuments for their preservation.

MUSEUMS AND COMMUNITIES:

At a panel discussion on ‘Audience Development and Museums’ moderated by Salima Hashmi, the panelists related their experiences of making museums people friendly and involving communities in decision making regarding these spaces so that they could identify with and have sense of their own heritage and of others.

Salima Hashmi opened the discussion with a quote by American president Henry Ford who said, “Museums are like graveyards full of dead things”, adding that “we in Lahore can understand it well.”

She said this while highlighting the need for improving the lot of government-funded museums where a lot was desired to be done.

Panelist Sara Wajid, a journalist who now worked with Birmingham Museum, UK, talked about making museums more inclusive by displaying artifacts from various cultures in consultation with the relevant communities to make these more meaningful for them and by asking them what they were interested in.

She deplored that national museums in UK were hierarchical and their organisational mould needed to be restructured by involving communities in decision making. She said the opportunity to restructure them came with reduction in state funding. “Now communities are being brought at the very heart of these museums.”

She said the museums needed to be changed with recent political awakening in UK after Brexit and influx of young voters and immigrant issues coming in focus.

Rebecca Bridgman of Birmingham Museum Trust said a lot has changed since the museum was built some 130 years ago and it demanded a new approach that should focus on coloured communities as 22.5 per cent of its population is south Asians.

She said the museums should be a means to introduce people to their own culture and also of others to promote plurality in society.

She was enthusiastic about ‘Faith in Birmingham’ gallery at the museum and added that “museums should give voice to communities and their aspirations.”

Fouzia Saeed of Lok Virsa Museum, Islamabad, spoke about the initiatives taken to attract public to the museum, besides the one to bring culture of persecuted Hazaras into the mainstream.

Sophie Makariou of Guimet Museum, France talked about her traveling to Turkey with her father in her childhood and developing interest in Islamic tradition and its spiritual side.

She said the museum had a department of Islamic collection to showcase Islamic heritage. She stressed the need for bringing youth to museums that are usually visited by the elderly.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2017