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‘Problematizing Silences in Intangible Heritage: Unsettling Historical Records of Women in Protests’
Prof Katarzyna Kosmala and ts Beal
This paper takes as a point of departure the ongoing debate surrounding the reconceptualization of heritage as a process, a shift which implies a multiplicity of narratives as well as pointing towards their possible concealment (Smith, 2006; Jackson and Kidd, 2011, 2). Inevitably, heritage constructed as a process of cultural engagement (Jackson and Kidd, 2011) or as action around communication and meaning making (Smith, 2006), becomes a site of struggle and a potential medium of transformation.
The paper addresses women’s visibility in constructed histories and their participation in political protests in the context of waterfront heritage zones associated with shipbuilding industry – based on the examples of two public art-centred projects: Women’s Histories & Protests on the Clyde from Govan’s hidden histories led by t s Beall in Glasgow, Scotland and Woman is a shipyard by Arteria Association and Metropolitanka in Gdansk, Poland. The paper examines how these ’performative’ projects engage with primary cultural heritage institutions in their prospective localities, with local publics, and with the sites themselves. Both projects seek openings in the ‘authorised heritage discourse’ that ‘takes its clue from the grand narratives of Western national and elite class experiences, and reinforces ideas of innate cultural value tied to time depth, monumentality, expert knowledge and aesthetics’ (Smith, 2006, 299). They question the usefulness of existing, authorised historical narratives, specifically in relation to the development of methods for increasing engagement with the past (Smith, 2011), and point instead at emerging, blurred understandings of multiple and even conflicting narratives within the construction of historical accounts.
The importance of intangible cultural heritage pivots not only on its cultural manifestation but on the wealth of knowledge and skills transmitted through it from generation to generation. Acknowledging the increasing permeability of cultural institutions – as the producers of heritage discourse – and through the lens of the adopted feminist-centred methodologies as means of co-curating contents, a consensus version of history concerning the importance of women’s roles in socio-economic struggles in the context of shipbuilding has been challenged by co-producing ‘alternative’ heritage trails with local publics. The feminist-inspired methodologies inherent to both projects, unsettling the status quo in an historical lineage of political protests by recovering, recording and mapping the omitted gendered accounts, appear ‘under-voiced’ themselves, and serve to reconceptualise engagement with the subaltern. In this context, we draw on the UNESCO’s initiative to safeguarding intangible heritage and appropriateness of its articulation (the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage). In particular we seek ways in which the UNESCO initiative can facilitate the process of uncovering or recovering lost voices in gendered historical accounts, given that intangible heritage remains largely unrecognised at national policy levels both in the UK and Poland, and neither country has ratified the UNESCO Convention.