International Symposium on Modern Heritage of Africa 22 – 24 September 2021, University of Cape Town, South Africa
The 20th anniversary of the Modern Heritage Programme, jointly initiated by UNESCO, ICOMOS, and DOCOMOMO, in 2021 presents a timely and important opportunity to reflect on the transformative cultural experiences and global consequences of the recent past that heralded the dawn of the anthropocene and its many impacts on climate, society, and the planet. Despite these impacts, the ‘modern’ era and its legacies are comparatively undervalued and overlooked, and disproportionately concentrated and interpreted in ‘the west’. MoHoA contends that Africa’s experiences of plural modernities include the positive and negative, colonial and post-colonial, tangible and intangible, urban and rural, culture and nature. This will need greater scholarly attention and can be instructive and transformative in framing modernities and modern heritage globally, as well as addressing the challenges of sustainability continentally. On the one hand, Africa’s contemporary cities, many of which are products of modern encounters, face the highest rates of urbanisation in the world over the next half a century, straining populations and resources, urban landscapes and rural hinterlands, and placing modern heritage at serious risk of alteration or destruction. On the other hand, the unique human settlement patterns in Africa, provides a new dimension, reflected in the cultural landscapes, “combining works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment”.
The African World Heritage Fund has identified modern heritage as amongst the most marginalised heritage categories on the continent, demanding investment in research and documentation to better protect, increase resilience and subsequently Africa’s representation on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Through improved methods of understanding and assessing significance, raising public awareness and promoting inscription on local or global registers, Africa’s modern heritage has a vital role in contributing to rural and urban sustainability in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) Approach.
MoHoA plans two symposia over two years and a series of supporting thematic workshops. The first symposium, focusing on Africa, will be hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2021 and titled ‘Modern Heritage of Africa’. The second will be global in scope and hosted by The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) in 2022 and titled 'Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene'. The outcome UCT symposium will lead to proposing a 'The Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage' supporting efforts to modify international policy and guidance on modern heritage in line with present and future planetary challenges of ecological, social and economic equity. This will be presented to the World Heritage Committee as part of the reporting exercise and as a side event at the relevant Committee Session. The UCL symposium will discuss the wider implications of the MoHoA globally.
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