Build Back Better: a participatory approach to mapping, measuring and mobilising cultural heritage in Brazil's Iron Quadrangle

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Drama

Abstract

This research addresses an acute threat to Brazilian cultural heritage from a predicted hazard that has been persistently raised as an urgent concern by a range of international scientific experts, local engineers and community activists. A pilot project will be undertaken within Brazil's Quadrilatero Ferrifero (Iron Quadrangle), a region of rich cultural, environmental and historical value but also the site of Brazil's largest iron ore reserves. The Iron Quadrangle includes two UNESCO World Heritage sites (Ouro Preto and Congonhas), five towns classified as Brazilian National Heritage sites, hundreds of listed monuments, unique archaeological sites and some of Brazil's significant indigenous rock paintings and ceramics.

The gold, soapstone and vibrant pigments of the minerals of the Iron Quadrangle were transformed in the 17th and 18th centuries by sculptors, painters, craftworkers and engineers into architecture that represents the apotheosis of the Brazilian Baroque. The region's abundant immaterial culture is rooted in tastes, sounds, words, rhythms, dances, decorations and rituals that have been forged in contested histories and mined from Brazil's most vertiginous and verdant land. Yet the people, the outstanding natural environment and the rich cultural heritage are at imminent risk from catastrophic natural and humanitarian disaster resulting from industrial mining. Two major landslip and flood events between 2015-2019 resulted in the loss of almost 300 lives and wreaked environmental devastation along a 1000km watershed.

Despite the unique cultural significance of Brazil's Iron Quadrangle, there has been no systematic research to measure the impact of recent disasters on the region's cultural heritage or on the lives of local communities. The project will pilot a community-based, collaborative approach to redressing the chronic lack of data in Brazil's current disaster response policy. In partnership with the Inhotim Institute (Latin America's largest outdoor art collection and one of Brazil's most prestigious contemporary art galleries), the research team will propose and test a method to train representatives from local arts and cultural organisations in methodologies that co-create inventories of cultural practices and assets. Using multi-disciplinary indicator tools to calibrate cultural value the research will examine what role cultural heritage can have as part of a process of transformation and regeneration. The project will establish Inhotim as a competence centre - 'hub' - for a community-based research strategy that values cultural heritage as a means of securing survival against future risks. A key aim of this project is to enhance cultural heritage's role in social agendas and influence decisions by policy makers by highlighting the measurable social, cultural and economic benefits of cultural assets and resources in dialogue with local communities, artists and cultural organisations.

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