Heritage and cultural diversity

 
 

In the past two decades voices questioning international heritage charters and the management of living heritage sites have been particularly raised in Asia and the Pacific, where the relation to living heritage places is complex and inter-linked with long standing social practices and spiritual values. New charters and protocols have emerged and show that this geographical zone inscribes a specific mark onto the international heritage discourse by drawing more attention onto intangible values that are conveyed through material heritage. These interrogations have generated a paradigm shift from object-based practices to subject-based approaches, aiming to restore the significance and the web of meanings people attribute to historical objects and places.


A scholarship at the University of Melbourne allowed Beatrice to address this challenging subject. The Master by research thesis investigates into traditional and contemporary practices of mural painting conservation in Buddhist monasteries of Thailand and Sri Lanka.  Analysing the social and historical background that transformed former systems of care-taking with the introduction of the notion of cultural heritage reveals how practices and approaches of murals and temples restoration were transformed.


Collating the evolution of conservation practices in those two Buddhist countries reveals how the introduction of the notion of heritage was dealt with in two distinct political contexts. Unlike Sri Lanka  Thailand was never colonized but underwent, since the 19th century, important institutional transformations in order to modernize the Buddhist monarchy. Even if their national heritage policies and legislation have been strongly influenced by international guidelines and charters, they show notable differences which are consequent of their historical background. It seems particularly  noteworthy to observe the profound and unbroken relation that devotees manifest towards Buddhist heritage sites, that remain places of worship, of merit making, and the residence of monks. In every sense of the word these historic places remain inhabited.


Reintegrating the public and the stake-holders into a more democratic management of heritage sites has become of central concern all over the globe. To measure up to this task, heritage professionals need to acknowledge that the notion of heritage itself is relative and needs to be adapted to different cultures. More than ever the principle of cultural diversity, at the heart of international organizations such as UNESCO, needs to be fully acknowledged in the conservation and restoration theory and practice.



 

Heritage and its conservation in diverse cultural contexts

Mural painting conservation site in Wat Prah Kheo, Bangkok, 2007

Restoration of Buddha images in  Wat Suthat, Bangkok, 2008

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Beatrice Byer Bayle has restored paintings on canvas, wood, glas, marble, and cardboard. She has also acquired experience in the restoration of mural paintings.

Beatrice Byer Bayle paintings conservator in Bogota, Colombia is also engaged in cross-disciplinary research into conservation policies in different cultural contexts.  This includes investigation into  indigenous and localised conservation practices respecting and integrating the meaning and significance objects hold for the public.