UNESCO Intangible Heritage means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural Heritage. This Intangible Heritage is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

In India, the idea of video documentation of the ICH is not so old. In fact, on the website of the Indian Ministry of Culture and other related organisations, one may see that there are archives of such records, but it is clear from these visual material that it has been done in a disrespectful way and secondly, in a manner which fails to bring the context of the cultural practice. In this respect, the safeguarding of the ICH must not be limited to documentation and archival but the way it is being documented, how it is being documented, what are the issues that come up during the documentation, relationship between the community and the filmmaker, for whom is the documentation being done, and what are the objectives of this documentation, are some of the questions that must be given importance when such a task is being taken up.

Intangible heritage is on the one hand endangered by globalisation and homogenisation processes and, on the other, by safeguarding measures that can petrify it. The only inherent element of ICH is its changing nature. Intangible cultural heritage should be subject to interpretations and changes by its users and those who carry it from generation to generation and, thus, should be protected with regard to its changing nature and not merely preserved.

Espírito Kashi is an avant-garde media project being run by it’s founder Rajat Nayyar, who is practicing visual anthropology and collaborative ethnography towards redefining ways of safeguarding the Intangible Heritage of India. His ethnographic films have been screened at prestigious conferences (such as EASA MILAN 2016) and at various international ethnographic film festivals. Rajat produced a sonic cinema on the folk songs sung by women during the Bhojpuri Initiation Rites (Janeu). He later took the film back to the community and organised a public screening and a post-film discussion on the topic ‘If you are born a Brahmin, then why need Janeu at all?

He has organised and directed massive ‘folklore documentation drives’ in rural Bihar and introduced the concept of Folklore 2.0, which is now being realised in the form of Interactive Cultural Landscapes for Gram Panchayats of India. This being a digital home for the community, they can interact with and through this to the world, at the same time engage with their own cultural heritage using new media/mobile technology. In doing this, he aims for the website to become an ethnographic field-site in itself. Preservation through innovation. 

The aim of our project is not just to enact social relations, but to intervene in actually existing contexts—to have a social and political effect.

Exploring emergent visual technologies and participatory methods in engaging with rural communities of India.


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