In a frantic effort to safeguard intangible cultural heritage (ICH), we tend to forget to enjoy the ICH elements, commented Dr. Kyung-Koo Han, a professor of Seoul National University in Korea, during the opening of the 2019 World Forum for Intangible Cultural Heritage, held from 10 to 12 October at the handsome National Intangible Heritage Center (NIHC) in the district of Wansan of the charming city of Jeonju, Jeollabuk, Korea.
In recent decades, emphasis have been put on the study and safeguarding of ICH. Many people and societies think heritage refers to tangible ones such as old structures and monuments. But equally, if not more, important is the intangible cultural heritage which includes craftsmanship, rituals, traditions, oral literatures, indigenous knowledge and practices. There are now increasing efforts to generate awareness on, deepen appreciation for and protect intangible cultural heritage. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) views it as the soul of a culture, and compelling manifestations of human creativity and diversity, transmitted through numerous generations. It immensely impacts our lives without realizing and understanding it.
A global conference on ICH, which gathers experts, practitioners, cultural workers and many members of different sectors, is one of the means to examine and understand ICH. The World Forum for Intangible Cultural Heritage, which started in 2017 “to shape global discourse on the transmission and use of ICH,” is organized by the NIHC and the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP), which was established in 2011 to support programs for UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in the region.
Now on its third year, the World Forum had the theme “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Civic Life” for 2019, exploring topics such as the value of ICH for humanity and in contemporary civic life, the role ICH plays in resolving social conflicts, and how it enriches civic life through learning and enjoyment.
Jeonju City proved to be an apt venue as it is a heritage center and the only UNESCO designated Creative City of Gastronomy in in Korea, according to its mayor Seung-Su Kim, who also revealed that the city attacts about 10 million tourists a year. The mayor welcomed the participants and said that ICH is a valuable asset especially for global understanding.
The forum gathered experts from 16 countries, who shared their thoughts and studies on ICH, as well as their experiences. The keynote speakers were professor Marc Jacobs from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, who discussed the word “enrichment” in the context of ICH in his talk “Enrich, Include and Empower: Living Heritage;” and Yon Ho Suh, ICH Committee chair of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, who delivered “The Value of ICH in the Contemporary Lives of People.”
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) Ban Ki-Moon was invited to present a special lecture, emphasizing the role of ICH in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and thus offering another perspective on ICH.
“Culture and the arts are also part of the SDGs. Cultural heritage can be found in every element of the SDG,” Ban Ki-Moon said. “To pursue the SDG is to be mindful of the cultural life of people and to have an unprecedented, unparalleled recognition of the arts. The concept of sustainable development is constituted by environmental protection, economic and social development, and cultural prosperity. Significantly, ICH has to do with inclusive economic development, peace and stability, contributing to many areas in life of all humanity.
“I strongly feel that ICH is deeply tied to SDG, but in what ways? ICH and SDG are directly related to environmental concerns. ICH can contribute in building inclusive societies and provide inclusive economic growth. Finally, ICH can be a platform to reaching peace and security,” he further said.
The eighth UN Secretary-General concluded by saying that “ICH can contribute to a genuine globalization, which means not only accepting foreign cultures, but also contributing to global society.”
The rest of the forum was itself an enriching experience with speakers talking about the myriad aspects of different ICH elements as well as safeguarding practices and discussing among themselves.
Enjoyment and participation were highlighted in “Richness Resulting from Diversity: Staging World Performing Arts at the Maison des Cultures du Monde, Paris” of Pierre Bois from France; “Sacred Sites as Living Heritage: Enriching Community Life” of Cholponai Usubalieva-Grishchuk from Kyrgyzstan; “Nordic Safeguarding Practices: Safeguarding from Civil Society” of Dr. Leena Marsio from Finland and “George Town Heritage Celebrations: Community Mobilization and Empowerment” of Dr. Ang Ming Chee from Malaysia.
Inclusivity, solidarity and respect were tackled in “Inclusivity through ICH: How Cambodian Living Arts is Working Towards a More Diverse and Inclusive Society” of Yon Sokhorn from Cambodia; “Safeguarding ICH in the Multicultural Society” of Yeo Kirk Siang from Singapore; “Adapting Ancient ICH for New Situations” of Dr. Karma Phuntsho from Bhutan and “Made 51: Bringing Refugee-Made Craft to the Global Market” of Aurore Lebouchard of the UNHCR.
The empowering of individuals was shown in the talks “Action-Transmitted Knowledge for Mastery and Inclusion” of Torunn Elise Kveen from Norway; “Exploring Knowledge: Preserving and Sharing Knowledge on Heritage” of Dr. Dale Jarvis; “Matter of Making” of Anne Pedersen from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; “A School of Living Tradition” of Renee Talavera from the Philippines and “Voices of the Wind: Celebrating Traditional Musicians of Laos” of Tara Gujadhur.
This year’s forum dedicated a special section discussing safeguarding activities and experiences in North Korea and international collaborations through UNESCO, featuring speakers Suzanne Ogge, director of Museums and Heritage Projects of Studio Milou in Singapore and a UNESCO-accredited facilitator; and Sangmee Bak, professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Korea. North Korea has been party to the Convention since 2008 and three ICH elements — the lyrical folk song “Arirang,” kimchi making, and ssireum or traditional wrestling — have been inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This session revealed North Koreans’ openness to safeguarding endeavors, explored international cooperation regarding ICH and tackled problems associated with it.
The World Forum coincided with the Festival of Korean Intangible Cultural Heritage, which opened in the afternoon of 11 October, also spearheaded by NIHC. The event afforded visitors to glimpse and experience the rich heritage of Korea.
The forum, the festival and the city converged to create and enriching experience and to show the huge significance and profound beauty of intangible cultural heritage in our lives and communities, energizing participants more to safeguarding it as well as enjoy it.
Photos by Roel Hoang Manipon