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Social Development & Cultural Heritage

Thursday, February 09, 2023 | 11:00 AM | VC Office, Faculty Lounge

Event Coverage

On the 9th of February, the Gurmani Centre welcomed Mr. Luis Monreal, General Manager AKTC for a conversation on how the reconstruction of physical cultural assets and the restoration of immaterial cultural heritage contribute to material progress in contemporary communities and societies. Mr. Monreal has had a long-term association with the AKTC, established by His Highness the Aga Khan to promote and preserve the diverse cultural heritage of Muslim societies. He joined the AKTC in 1997, bringing with him a wealth of experience in the fields of art history, archaeology, architecture, urban design, and heritage conservation. Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)’s special representative Akber Ali Pesnani in Afghanistan and Mr. Kamran Lashari, Director general of the Walled City Authority of Lahore were also present at the occasion.

The attendees and the panel discussed the socio-economic potential of cultural heritage sites and how it can be engaged to provide opportunities and livelihoods to indigenous peoples and populations. Evoking the current situation in Turkey and Syria since devastating earthquakes recently struck the region, Mr. Monreal and Dr Nadhra Shahbaz Khan mourned the tremendous human loss and highlighted the catastrophic human and cultural costs of such disasters.

The panel discussed how it is imperative to identify and develop new cultural destinations in a post-COVID world where a massive influx of a bourgeoning, recovering tourism industry is again beginning to head toward traditional cultural heritage destinations. Effective strategies of diversifying and enhancing cultural heritage on offer are essential because they can bring lucrative benefits and relief to communities hitherto geographically removed and in economic ostracism. In this context, Mr Monreal mentioned Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan, historic locations to parallel Petra in Jordan and newly discovered archaeological sites near copper mining fields in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Monreal also discussed how such varied and challenging preservation programs require long-term planning. Preservation in situ is not always possible so occasionally remains must be moved for better conservancy. Nonetheless, cultural norms and historical sensitivities must be catered to during this exercise. To initiate laymen into respectful patterns toward preservation, it would be ideal to introduce fundamentals of conservation and preservation at an early stage. With pedagogical support and social involvement, children, young adults, and entire communities can get an early start on these cultural models. This can pave the way to cultural revival becoming mainstream practice. An investment in human capital is an inevitable eventual advantage of such an education.

As they endeavor to preserve historical monuments before they are irreversibly lost, the AKTC finds themselves confronted with new challenges. The panel discussed how popular imagination still does not seem to have developed an objective, unbiased opinion on conservation vis-a vis contemporary political issues (like removal of contentious conservative historical monuments in the US). Additionally, in a post-Covid world, economic concerns intervene to such an extent that some European governments have now privatized monuments for their efficient maintenance. Nevertheless, private sector management and outsourcing of such conservation activities to commercial partners and otherwise is still in its nascent stage.

Mr. M appreciated the sustained, preservation and restoration efforts being undertaken at historically pertinent sites in Lahore under the leadership of Mr. Kamran Lashari. He also stressed the need to consider strategic periodic interventions to ensure long-term maintenance of these positive practices.

The participants emphasized the fact that cultural preservation is not just about bricks and mortar. Immaterial culture (e.g., music, linguistic tradition) also needs to be preserved and the significance of such a practice needs to be cultivated at the heart of societies to ensure it becomes organic and spontaneous. To ensure sustained continuities, contemporary manifestations of heritage (not to be confused with uniquely immovable cultural sites) need to expand and reach more people around the world so they can develop as shared human ethos.


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