Seminar with Chiara De Cesari: Heritage and the Cultural Struggle for Palestine
In recent decades, Palestinian heritage organizations have launched numerous urban regeneration and museum projects across the West Bank in response to the enduring Israeli occupation. These efforts to preserve and assert Palestinian heritage differ significantly from the typical global cultural project: here it is people’s cultural memory and historic lived environment, rather than ancient history and archaeology, that take center stage. It is local civil society and NGOs, not state actors, who are ‘doing’ heritage. This proliferation of heritage projects—the fact of heritage being a matter of intense public concern—must be seen in the context of a long history of cultural resistance against the Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands. But in the post-Oslo period, Palestinian heritage has become not just a practice of resistance, but a resourceful mode of governing the Palestinian landscape. In my talk, I discuss some of these Palestinian heritage projects and the transnational actors, practices, and material sites they mobilize to create resourceful, at times innovative quasi-state institutions. Indeed, in the absence of a sovereign state, they have also given Palestinians opportunities to rethink and transform state functions. I argue then that heritage has proven central to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, self-determination and, crucially, to the struggle to create a viable, democratic Palestinian state. Finally, I sketch the contours of new forms of memory and heritage activism drawing on artistic practice and transnational networks that are arguably of relevance well beyond the Israeli-Palestinian case.
Chiara De Cesari
is Associate Professor of European Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She is the author of Heritage and the Cultural Struggle for Palestine
(2019, Stanford University Press), and co-editor of Transnational Memories
(de Gruyter, 2014, with Ann Rigney) and European Memory in Populism
(Routledge, 2019, with Ayhan Kaya). She has published widely in journals such as American Anthropologist
, Museum Anthropology
, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism
, Memory Studies
, the International Journal of Heritage Studies
and the International Journal of Middle East Studies
. Her research focuses on memory, heritage and cultural politics, and how they intersect with current transformations of the nation-state form; memories of colonialism and cultural racism in Europe; the transnational museum; Palestine/Israel. She is part of several EU-funded schemes on memory and cultural politics. Her most recent project, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) through a Vidi grant, explores the globalization of contemporary art and forms of creative institutionalism and statecraft.