With the generous support of Chelsea Arts Trust Club I was able to start an MA programme in Cultural Heritage Studies at University College London this autumn. This programme specialises in the role that art and cultural heritage play in forming notions of personal and collective identity, with particular focus on thinking beyond Eurocentric practices and concerns in the field of cultural heritage. It explores notions upheld by UNESCO, and other major, international organisations concerned with cultural heritage, that view cultural sites and practices as part of a common, global heritage and that protecting, preserving and promoting culture and cultural diversity are essential in building peace and fostering mutual understanding in a globalised world. In line with much of the current work being undertaken by organisations such as UNESCO, especially in relation to continuing violence in the Middle East, the course also very much engages with the effect that armed conflict and the destruction of heritage sites has on communities and wider public responses to these devastating acts.
My dissertation proposal currently consists of the objective of exploring the way in which the museum-as-institute and as a fundamentally European conception operates in non-Western societies. I intend to look at the Indian Museum in Kolkata, the former colonial-capital of India, as an outmoded and imperial model, which limits the way in which the collection is used and understood by local and foreign visitors alike. Through the use of post-colonial theory and ethnographic study, I wish to explore the idea that there are alternative and more sympathetic forms of museological practices. This will hopefully not only lead to giving a stronger voice to those who are often marginalised, but also encourage a greater level of civic engagement with public culture in a country where their heritage is still so often being displayed and understood as “other”. In my pursuit of exploring alternative models of museums, the concern for creating new ways of approaching cultural heritage reflects an impending need to provide voices for and acknowledge the rich diversity of cultures that are increasingly under threat.