ICOMOS engages with the diversification and decolonisation of heritage

At present, monuments of colonialists, oppressors and racists are being toppled in many countries around the world. A common theme within these responses is a demand for change in how we memorialize and represent history and how officially designated heritage specifically addresses racism, colonialism, enslavement and oppression.

Joining the debate spearheaded by organisations such as SAH, Historic England, The Architectural League, National Trust for Historic Preservation and others, and in order to remain a globally active and relevant organization, ICOMOS hosted a virtual workshop initiated by the EPWG (Emerging Professionals Working Group) and ICOMOS Germany’s AG2020 Working Group. The workshop took place on 19 July 2020 and was attended by members from a broad range of ICOMOS National Committees, International Scientific Committees and Working Groups.

The anger and calls for change expressed by the Black Lives Matter protests have shed light on how whiteness prevails in the structure of organisations, but also as the dominant voice that is seen and heard within them. In order to remain relevant, it is important that ICOMOS takes a critical look at itself and the issues of diversity and in particular underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the organisational structures.

The two-hour workshop discussion engaged with topics ranging from examples of racism as experienced within the interpretation of sites, the self-reflection of National Committees to broader conversations surrounding diversity, equity, decolonization, inclusion and antiracism within ICOMOS. Among the question of representation, the mandate of a reflection group was discussed as well as possible next steps.

The conversations of the session went on to examine the institution of ICOMOS itself and interrogate how or indeed if, the current systems and structures of ICOMOS could be used to engage with the debate on how to confront racism and exclusion.

Arising from the workshop it became clear that it is imperative that ICOMOS becomes active and develops a position on the international debate taking place at the moment. The organisation needs to be more inclusive and antiracist in its practices and organisational structures; equally important is the need to be seen as a critical participant and a leading voice for change in the cultural heritage sector.

As a start to the process it was suggested that a working group be formed to continue the discussion, that the debate be prioritised in the programmes of the ICOMOS National Committees and International Scientific Committees.

ICOMOS recognises the importance of this initiative and, whilst acknowledging the sensitivities of these difficult and often painful discussions, it supports and encourages the active participation of members and Committees in this debate as it unfolds. Our activities can only be enriched and diversified by welcoming an open and honest debate on matters relating to racism and oppression of minorities across the broad sector of heritage.

For further details, or should you wish to become part of the discussion please email antiracism[at]icomos.org


See also

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