babelmed - 12/01/2005
The exhibition “Med Voices: Shared Spaces in Times of Crises” at the Biblioteca Alexandrina is part of a larger project implemented by other twelwe Mediterranean cities: ”Med Voices: Oral History and Cultural Practices in Mediterranean Cities". This initiative is a very interesting attempt to reverse the customary emphasis given to monumental heritage and to promote an awareness of the intangible Mediterranean Cultural Heritage...
The Exhibition is part of the EuroMed Heritage II project initiated by the London Metropolitan University and institutions in twelve cities around the Mediterranean, working to collect the voices, stories, pictures and memorablia of their residents. The Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center (Alex-Med) is documenting the oral heritage of Alexandria, concentrating on the old cosmopolitan areas of the city. From Alexandria the exhibition is then expected to go on to Italy, Beirut and
Bethlehem. The principal aim of the Mediterranean Voices project is to reverse the customary emphasis given to monumental heritage and to promote an awareness of the intangible cultural heritage of Mediterranean urban landscapes amongst as
wide an audience as possible: academics, policy-makers, civil society organisations, educational institutions, and the general public, particularly members of the ‘Mediterranean diaspora’.
The project was developed from the work of three social anthropologists (Scott, Selwyn, Bianchi) working in the International Institute for Culture Tourism and Development at London Metropolitan University and is based on a partnership with a number of different institutions, including universities, non-governmental organisations and independent research agencies, in the cities of, Alexandria, Ancona, Beirut, Bethlehem, Chania, Ciutat de Mallorca, Granada, Istanbul, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Marseille, Nicosia North, Nicosia South, and Valletta.
In each city a team of researchers and IT/digital media specialists are collecting and recording the memories and perceptions of neighbourhood residents. These oral histories embrace a variety of themes including, family histories; memories of places and important events; experiences of mobility and displacement; local folklore, rituals and customs; festivals and holidays; as well as a number of daily practices which are part and parcel of everyday life, working and socialising in these cities and neighbourhoods.
Through its focus on a variety of neighbourhood-based interactions and experiences which are played out in and through story-telling, personal recollections of historic events, everyday social interactions and cultural practices, this project illuminates the diverse, yet often fragile, fabric of memories and relationships which help to shape the meaning and character of Mediterranean urban quarters.The cities and neighbourhoods which form part of the consortium and arenas of activity, are not intended to be in any way representative of a Mediterranean urban ‘archetype’. However, they do share a number of traits or ‘cultures of urbanism’, typical of Mediterranean urban quarters and environments, for example, the dense co-presence of an ethnically and socially-mixed population. In addition, these attributes cannot be understood without reference to the trans-Mediterranean ties of trade and mobility which have historically nourished these fluid and cosmopolitan urban social ecologies. The ever-present challenge of sharing space and living together constitutes one of the many aspects of personal and collective memory in the Mediterranean city.
Mediterranean shores and Mediterranean cities have experienced the presence and movement of populations as a result of social, economic and cultural exchange on the one hand, conflicts, crises and transitions, on the other. However, whilst the Mediterranean sea itself looms large in the life of these cities, having played such a central role in bringing the peoples of the northern, southern, eastern and western shores together - including the archipelagos of the Mediterranean Atlantic’ which lie beyond the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ – their populations have periodically turned inwards to face the hinterland. Out of this tension between the sea and the land, comes a unique set of histories and ways
of life embodied in the oral histories which have been collected and stored in this unique archive.
Nor, however, have these cities and their urban cultures been immune to the destabilising effects of capitalist restructuring, globalisation, ethno-cultural nationalism, religious conflict, territorial expansion, racism and xenophobia.
Fragile inter-communal ties, often forged over generations, and the co-existence of different ethnic groups and religions, has periodically lapsed into division and violence. Thus, although many of the oral histories presented in this database are testimony to the ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism of the Mediterranean basin, they also offer an honest portrayal of the routine difficulties and periodic conflicts encountered by residents of these neighbourhoods.
The protection of heritage and the celebration cultural identity have also become of increasing concern for various state and non-state institutions alike.
Indeed cultural heritage, both monumental and non-monumental – as evidenced by
the recent adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO - is increasingly envisaged as an integral component in a series strategies which bring together actors and institutions in the arenas of economic development, heritage conservation and urban cultural tourism. However, these strategies often privilege the monumental, or indeed, élite visions of culture and heritage, thus ignoring the presence of popular oral traditions and cultural practices. There are few if any monuments to these aspects of neighbourhood based interactions which give rise to specific urban identities and modes of belonging. Nor is it likely that they would be either feasible or desirable. Thus, informed by the principles of ethnographic investigation and oral history techniques, the Mediterranean Voices project seeks to create a space for the expression of less frequently heard voices which for a variety of reasons are often absent or effaced in monumental aspects of urban cultural heritage. Working in collaboration with certain target groups in each city, including local authorities, neighbourhood associations, cultural and heritage institutions, musicians and artistic associations, museums, non-government organisations, tour guides, schools, and, university departments, the collected material is also being used to develop a series of events across the Mediterranean region, including seminars, workshops, conferences, documentary films, and exhibitions, each of which deal with one or more of the principal themes of the project.
Whilst each city will host their own exhibition, dealing with issues and themes
specific to that locality, the exhibition “Shared Spaces in Times of Crises: Memories of Alexandria, Ancona, Beirut, Bethlehem and Split” that takes place at the Biblioteca Alexandrina from the 26/12/2004 to 16/01/2005 will explore a number of wider themes which illuminate a number of shared experiences in these five cities, including, mobility, nostalgia, boundaries and shared spaces, cultural pluralism and cosmopolitanism, globalisation, rupture and the creation of new borders,perceptions of security, identity, perceptions of others, tradition and modernity, ethnicity and citizenship.
We warmly recommend to follow these exhibitions in your respectives cities, and visit the Med Voices Website which examines the cultural heritage of these cities. It is an exceptional way to discover a rich oral and social database holding unique examples of intangible cultural heritage: memories of people and places, and documents such as photographs and maps from historic quarters across the region.