Memorialisation as valuation: Examining public culture at the Chattri Sikh Memorial, Brighton

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


The proposed research project aims to broaden the discussion of Cultural Value by studying a site of public culture that may be seen as marginal, unfamiliar or vernacular: the Chattri Memorial near Brighton.

Built in 1921 to honour Indian soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the First World War, Chattri is both a sacred place and a space of cultural experiences. The monument is an enduring testament of past values of heroism, but more ephemeral practices of pilgrimage, public display and socialising also suggest changing valuation processes at the site. Culture here is an interaction of traditions, symbols, experiences, emotion, and memories as expressed by descendants, local residents, ethnic organisations, officials, and individuals performing a variety of identity roles. This "thick" site, enlivened by ritual and affective experiences, presents a confluence of factors for analysis: what values are remembered and displayed, but also reshaped and remixed, in material and immaterial forms.

The project will:
- document the many facets of cultural production and consumption at work within memorialisation here, on several temporal and social scales, using historical methods and ethnographic techniques that engage participants
- analyse material and immaterial forms and practices using objective/subjective insights offered by Critical Discourse Analysis
- theorise the changing nature of 'value' implied in themes that emerge within a matrix of historical, positional, textual, processual and pedagogical factors

Planned Impact

This project defines two areas/audiences of impact: academic and social. Social beneficiaries are further divided to include broad socio-cultural impacts, policy impacts and audience/participant impacts.

1) Knowledge Creation
-- Detailed picture of the processes of production and consumption that lie behind memorialising activities that will contribute specifically to the Cultural Value project
-- Co-created understandings of the uses of memorialising practices for wellbeing and expressive citizenship among immigrant communities
--Specific comprehension of themes and assumptions about cultural value as expressed at this site, and potential evaluative criteria development for future application
-- Applied understanding of the drawbacks and opportunities inherent in these practices that could lead to recommendations for improved cultural policy strategies
--Knowledge-creation benefit not only to scholars, students and international audiences, but also to professional groups and immigrant community organisations

2) Enhanced Research Collaboration
-- Create a cross-cultural, collaborative group of academics, heritage practitioners, and ethno-cultural community members representing a broad spectrum of views on cultural valuation
-- Enhanced involvement by non-mainstream knowledge producers in an academic research process, and acknowledgement of the value of their understandings and practices
-- Raised awareness about this subject area within many disciplines of the UK academic community, which will engender increased research linkages and follow-up research by other scholars

1) Enriched public discourse:
-- Raised public profile of this case study heritage site, related practices and cultural valuation, both within ethno-cultural communities and also in the broader social context within which they are situated
-- Wider publicity resulting from local and ethnic media contacts, stakeholder meetings organized around the research and face-to-face contacts with practitioners and publics

2) Cultural outcomes
-- Enhanced understanding and validation of 'from below' and everyday/popular cultural and heritage knowledge
-- Broadening of definitions and understandings of Cultural Value within everyday and popular culture, and in policies and institutions of culture
-- Encouragement of ethno-cultural community members to take reflect on their actual and potential contributions broader cultural, social and political engagements in UK society

3) Improved policy
-- Improved definitions and valuations of culture and heritage in professional and practical arenas such as museum association conferences, ethno-cultural association events or local planning processes
-- Broadened public policy strategies to facilitate ethno-cultural forms/expressions for social and cultural purposes
-- Encouragement of those community members involved or engaged through the research to take a stronger role in new policy development in the UK
-- Potential identification of drawbacks or opportunities in existing arts and cultural policy-making that relate specifically to ethno-cultural community inclusion and integration

4) Enhanced participation
-- Direct input by local residents, members of specific ethno-cultural communities, and other participants in the production of knowledge, and how it should be used.
--Involvement and commitment of voluntary individuals and groups in the study will lead to dissemination through ethic and community media networks, raising level of understanding and legitimation of culture and heritage within and across communities
-- Contribute to improvements of third-sector organisations such as the Sikh-led Chattri Memorial group and the Brighton and Hove Black History Project


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Ashley S (2016) Acts of heritage, acts of value: memorialising at the Chattri Indian Memorial, UK in International Journal of Heritage Studies

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Ashley S (2016) Introduction: Heritage-Outside-In in International Journal of Heritage Studies

Title The Chattri Indian Memorial, Brighton 
Description A video produced for a participant workshop during the AHRC project used as a facilitation tool, but given to the non-profit organisation and to the Brighton Museum for their own dissemination. Parts now being used in conference presentations. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Good as a stakeholder-building tool (participants helped in the video development) but also excellent reception by audiences during workshops. 
Description Memorialisation as Valuation studied vernacular cultural practices at the Chattri Indian Memorial near Brighton, a site of public culture built in 1921 to honour Indian soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the First World War. The research foregrounded the symbolic and spiritual realm of culture, and how a self-reflective form of public communicative action is embodied through memorialisation at this site. The activities at the Chattri clearly fall within the 'Reflective Individuals and Engaged Citizens' dimension of the Cultural Value project.

The nature of Chattri's valuation changed over the years as the memorial moved from political war monument to sacred centre for the Indian community. These differences highlight how memorialising serves political and social values, but also how people derive wellbeing from experiences in the spiritual realm. Three cultural values emerged as important in this study, all emphasising cultural experiences as processes of meaning-making: 'An Embodied Presence', 'A Mutual Recognition' and 'A Higher Good'.

'A Higher Good' places value on the intangible realm of morality and spirituality. This valuation is about Goodness not Utility. Moral and spiritual activities hold intrinsic value for some people: the Sikh concept of 'sewa', a physical, embodied act of selflessness resulting in a gain for others, has a higher order of cultural value. The value 'A Higher Good' depends on the infinite connectedness of all things to all other things.

'An Embodied Presence' accentuates the human need for material, embodied encounters with place and with others through cultural activities. 'Presence' requires active not passive exchanges, solidarity, a sense of occasion and purposeful meaning-making.

'A Mutual Recognition' reflects the value of witnessing and recognising the Other as different but equal. It rejects tendencies to equate 'cultural values' with 'white values'. Cultural experiences that value mutual recognition can lead to cross-cultural negotiation, difference, hybridity and/or transformation.
Exploitation Route The findings could be taken forward in two major areas, research and policy. Both areas are linked to the three Cultural Value themes delineated in question 1. Thus, both further research to understand, but also new policy/funding strategies that further these 'values' of cultural activity would be important and useful.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description There has been no obvious 'use' at present. During the research, voluntary participants reported a raised awareness and understanding of the subject area as a result of the project. Ongoing discussions among participants, instigated by workshops, indicate that they might take steps to apply for cultural funding, and generate their own spin-off activities. (In this specific case, a desire to organise a diasporic centenary event.)
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural