At G20, India will put spotlight on culture
To engage with the priorities of India’s CWG in depth and more meaningfully, the ministry of culture has developed a robust year-long programme of cultural projects, such as exhibitions, immersive experiences, art residencies, seminars and publications.
The landmark world conference on culture, Mondiacult 2022, declared culture as a global public good, placing it at the heart of international policy and cooperation. The essence of this global paradigm shift is being strongly echoed through India’s ongoing G20 presidency. Befittingly, the Culture Working Group (CWG) of India’s G20 presidency postulates “Culture for LiFE” – promoting an environmentally conscious lifestyle by harnessing the potential of living heritage and cultural practices, positing culture at the forefront of development and diplomacy dialogue, acknowledging its growing contribution to global Gross Domestic Product, and celebrating cultural diversity to renew multilateral cooperation. The CWG will evolve through four meetings in four historic cities and steer the G20 discourse on four priority areas.
First, the protection and restitution of cultural property. Our tangible heritage navigates us to the latent linkages with the intangible. Unethical appropriation, armed conflicts, theft and illicit trafficking of antiquities erode collective memory, depriving communities of the right to access and share their heritage. The globalisation of markets and unregulated online trade with easier flows of capital have accelerated the illicit trafficking of antiquities in recent times. In the last eight years, 229 antiquities, including the 10th CE Parrot lady from Khajuraho, have been repatriated to India from different countries. Many more are yet to find their way home. CWG will initiate an open and inclusive dialogue for strengthening existing mechanisms and frameworks to address the issue through the ethical lens of transitional justice and the moral obligation to correct a historical wrong.
Second, harnessing living heritage for a sustainable future. Sustainability or, more accurately, sustainable practices, have been the cornerstone of Indian culture. Ecocentric circular economy values emphasising mindful consumption and optimal utilisation of resources make India one of the least wasteful economies. Community knowledge, holistic living, and environmental management practices provide valuable insights and tools for tackling ecological challenges, including the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. The pandemic was a grim reminder of the importance of embracing values embedded in our living heritage practices to fend off the challenges faced by humanity. Creating a repository of such practices and preserving indigenous languages as vehicles of living heritage is the need of the hour. India’s CWG will galvanise the efforts of the G20 for leveraging existing initiatives and mainstreaming them in policy frameworks.
Third, the promotion of cultural and creative industries and creative economy. The cultural and creative industries and creative economies are some of the world’s most rapidly growing sectors. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report, global creative goods exports stand at $1.1 trillion. South-South trade in creative goods amounts to 40.5% of exports by developing economies. India’s creative economy accounts for an overall market size of about $36.2 billion. However, global issues such as the climate crisis and, more recently, the pandemic, continue to adversely affect the culture sector’s long-term growth. A lack of a universal definition of what constitutes creative economy and who qualifies as cultural practitioners impede evidence-based policymaking. Acknowledging the role of this sector in promoting social inclusion and local social capital, CWG will deliberate on strengthening cultural data-collection mechanisms, enhancing business support measures and securing the status of cultural practitioners.
Fourth, leveraging technology for the promotion and preservation of culture. Digital technologies are critical for safeguarding cultural heritage, especially during conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies. In our wired and interconnected world, rapidly emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and robotics have revolutionised how we create, access and experience culture. As a result, initiatives by memory institutions to provide access to their collections through interactive and immersive technology interfaces have gained momentum. In today’s new normal, the digital has emerged as the most critical space for innovation and engagement. Preserving cultural assets for future generations is a significant public policy goal worldwide. CWG will focus on ways to expand user-friendly digital cultural experiences and hasten the digitisation of cultural assets.
To engage with the priorities of India’s CWG in depth and more meaningfully, the ministry of culture has developed a robust year-long programme of cultural projects, such as exhibitions, immersive experiences, art residencies, seminars and publications. Select projects have been conceptualised to represent the shared heritage and diverse cultural expressions of G20 member-states and guest nations. This is India’s opportunity to be the voice of the Global South for a more equitable exchange of cultural goods and services.
Govind Mohan is secretary, and Lily Pandeya, joint secretary, ministry of culture. The views expressed are personal