The Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains are regions where heritage has emerged and developed in response to the ever-shifting geological morphology and the movements of people, rivers and weather conditions, offering renewed ways of assessing and understanding material and immaterial heritage. Heritage cosmopolitics offers valuable ways of approaching contemporary mountainous Asia, especially as places get re-imagined and re-instated through developmental projects envisioned by the state and non-governmental organizations.
In this research, particular heritage assets and practices move across borders and between worlds, both spatially and temporally, where entities such as communities, plants, ancestors, spirits, and more-than-human folk inhabit and share the landscape. It examines heritage as a process - how it acquires coherence, its naming and acknowledgement and associations with different stakeholders - which poses important questions with respect to identity and belonging as well as claims to a particular past, a present and a desired future. I explore this through Isabelle Stengers ‘cosmopolitical proposal’ (2005), which draws our attention to the politics involved in composing and representation of the world, which in this case is the articulation of heritage through particular knowledge-making practices.
This project examines the cosmopolitics of heritage in different sites: an artefact in a museum, a vernacular abode (exploring the architectural form language), a practice of making (craft) and a landscape (a set of relations in the active making of heritage rather than a backdrop for activities). Heritage cosmopolitics attends to the processes and relations through which assets, artefacts and entities acquire relevance and unearths the different ways worlds are ordered. This project proposes to see heritage-making as a practice of composing the world, raising the crucial question of who/which stakeholders are recognized, acknowledged and actively part of creating and narrating this world.
During my fellowship, I will conduct a workshop on 'cosmopolitical maps' that are an attempt to recognize human and non-human entities and their potentially other worlds. Such maps explore and draw upon the vitality of matter, non-human and more-than-human entities and their capacity to organize, transgress, dis-mantle and negotiate forms of ordering the world. This form of mapping will hopefully allow us to recognize not just the entities/stakeholders but the practices through which heritage is formed, recognized and maintained.
Zahra Hussain has received an IIAS Fellowship to spend a period of ten months (May 2023 - March 2024) doing research at IIAS.
Focusing on Hindu Kush Himalaya, her project examines the cosmopolitics of heritage in different sites - an artefact in a museum, a vernacular abode (exploring the architectural form language), a practice of making (craft) and a landscape (a set of relations in the active making of heritage rather than a backdrop for activities).