In 2106, Philip Davies, an expert in British conservation and heritage, asked the British government for funding to help preserve colonial empire heritage in a number its ex colonies. This comes at a time when the UK seeks to vote on leaving the EU and capitalising on trading with the Commonwealth. In his view, the state of these historical monuments tarnish the international reputation of Britain, speculating that their revival would stimulate economic growth and the host country’s desire to make deals with the UK.

 

“Prominent public buildings and monuments, which symbolise Britain’s shared history with a host country and which are dilapidated and decaying, portray a nation unconcerned about its global culture and influence – a country in decline.”

 

Despite arguing this is in the interest of both nations, there is a case to be made about the significance and historical intention of the building in the first place. It is natural that locals may find the idea uncomfortable yet nowhere has it been mentioned that their opinions had been sought after. I remember reading an article about Nazi architecture being designed to be imposing when used but also majestic as ruins, marking forever the earth with their achievements. I can imagine the empires, British and others, would have had similar intentions.

 

This debate highlights the political nature of conservation also evident in the reconstruction of the Arc of Palmyra after its destruction by ISIS. I went to a talk called Trafficking of cultural goods: 3D modelling and digital colonialism recently. One speaker was a Syrian Acheologist Nour A. Munawar, whose works focus on the reconstruction of Syrian and Iraqi heritage in post-conflict contexts. His talk highlighted the conflicting narratives that are built around heritage. In the case of the Arc:

-Syrian people have lost irreplaceable experiences, values and heritage but also question the need to, out of all the heritage destroyed, rebuild the one that was built by the roman empire as it conquered Palmyra and captured its queen to parade her in Rome.

– the Syrian government seeks to boost its legitimacy as an authority that defends the country’s culture

– ISIS wants to gain attention. this act was meaningful in supporting their quest in “cultural cleansing” and suppression of opposing beliefs

– Russia seeks to increase its influence in the Middle East

– The west wants to preserve western heritage and western European narratives.

 

These examples portray the impact of symbolism embedded in cultural artefacts and questions the ownership of world heritage and its meaning relating to the context of history, geography, sociology economics, and politics. The aesthetic of heritage is also interesting because it strikes a delicate balance between elegance and decay, when too elegant would be fake, and rubble useless.