*This is a fictitious conference review that emerged from a Heritage as Placemaking team discussion on decolonisation from the vantage point of various disciplinary backgrounds. As a creative experiment, we envisaged a future conference taking place in 2057, when decolonisation as an ongoing process might be nearing realisation.

For the sake of this exercise, we put out a fictional call for papers to the research team, appointed keynote speakers, reviewed panels and wrote book reviews, pondered over the food we would eat, and imagined how our joint concern with heritage studies might have developed. While forcing ourselves to dream of future alternatives, to our surprise, we were little concerned with questions of authenticity or the built environment. Instead, we felt the need to imagine ecological utopias, develop the connection between heritage and gender, as well as dive into new materialism and relate it to repatriation. As a reflective blog post and an entry into our project’s collective imagination, we have written a short conference review, below:

July 30th, 2057 marked the beginning of the 37th United Federation of the Decolonised (UFD) Conference in New Lagos.

Held in collaboration with the Library of Repatriation (LoR), the three-day UFD conference saw leading anthropologists, sociologists, conservationists, and criminologists host a series of thought-provoking panels and discussions on cultural ownership and appropriation, material encounters, gender traditions, heritage activism, and the large field of heritage diplomacy.

The panel ‘Colonial Museums’ discussed the once glorified status of objects as prized loot detached from their place of origin, their makers, and their users. With the recent completion of the Repatriation Period (2025–2040), a new disciplinary field, ‘forum studies’, has emerged. This discipline, which took centre stage at the 37th Conference, looks at museal legacies to reflect upon what has connected people amid the vast, historic dislocation of material culture. The conference also introduced the Object Lab, a practical session of object handling that invited participants either in person or as avatars to handle a collection of former museum artefacts. During the reaching out of objects (darshan) to their displaced diasporas and transnational adorators, emotions ran high. Elderly audiences in particular felt both ‘blessed and entitled’, as Howard Grovenour famously, aptly described his relationship with the set of ‘his’ well known objects.

Sessions had to be substantially extended for member groups of stateless nations who still have notoriously limited access to their material past. The conference team organised so-called sleep-in sessions to celebrate ‘awakenings’, which emphasised the continued immobility of objects held by former colonial powers. Most notable from the Object Lab was the metallurgist event sparked by Sumi Nachalne, head curator of the Forum S in Washington, who juxtaposed The Second Wave by El Anatsui (2019), Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini (1554), and the “Imperial State” Crown of the former United Kingdom, now with a glass replica of its largest diamond, کوه نور Koh-i-Noor, The Mountain of Light (2030). As an experiment, the objects were placed in proximity to see how they reacted as agents when exposed to each other. Readings on the molecular level tracing the agency or, as we now say, the longing of objects, displayed the birth of new chemical bonds to a fascinated audience.

In a retrospective panel on gender, ‘Him or Her Clothing: What’s That?’, participants examined archival records and ledgers of gendered clothing, reminding themselves that the early 2020s saw the beginning of what is now commonly known as androgynous or gender-fluid clothing. The panel examined former ideologies through an intersectional lens that took gender, patriarchy, colonisation, and sexuality into consideration. Diving into the inextricable connections between clothing and heritage, the panel discussed paradigm-shifting research from the 2020s that analysed the social implications of mainstream patriarchy and the gaping absence of gendered heritage studies.

Any conference would be incomplete without several book launches, and the 37th UFD did not disappoint. While key notes and panel discussions are the most important element, poster sessions and book launches give participants an opportunity to interact with researchers on their findings and to take home the beautifully haptic book or decorative poster describing research in full length formats, to sit with, muse over and perhaps add in ‘ted-snippets’ or ‘twit-sparks’ to their student’s reading list for the next semester.

For the purpose of this review, only four books shall be highlighted here, each of which addresses a distinct sub-field in the emerging discipline of forum studies.

  • Emiline Smith’s The End of Heritage Diplomacy, coming out in June 2057, addresses the bygone field of repatriation studies and the legal frameworks that were once essential to return museum legacies. In particular, chapter three on transit galleries and the opening chapter on ownership disputes are remarkable summaries of a time long since passed. The book also brings readers up-to-speed on the latest international legal framework in chapter five, where we delve into care, protection and the natural lifecycle of cultural heritage.

  • By contrast, Monalisa Maharjan’s recent publication Deface Embrace: Heritage Activism Meets Iconoclasm revisits the devastating Nepal Earthquakes of 2015, 2037, 2052, effectively chronicling the grassroot heritage activism in Nepal that brought a new generation of politicians to the forefront in South Asia. This phenomenon of rooted personalities in national elections rocked many politically corrupt countries in the 2030s, paving the way to new accountability. Deface Embrace also produces a substantial range of interviews with the first generation of Nepali politicians who were inspired by grassroot heritage activists.

  • Out next month, the volume Recreating Places of Memory: Milieu of Actors and Actions by Binita Magaiya tackles the fascinating topic of cultural amnesia. It asks how a person’s own perception of heritage influences memory. Taking the past 60 years into account, the study addresses how the invention of the Net (then known as the World Wide Web) changed the capacity, functionality, and operationality of the human brain, thereby altering centuries-old DNA and creating new biological possibilities for human recollection. Magaiya’s study is exemplary in tracing embodied mnemonic techniques while simultaneously visualising (through individual, miniature, 3D-printed heritage dioramas) human subjectivity with great attention to detail. The work is a fascinating and technically sophisticated study.

  • Finally, the last book we wish to highlight is Thirangie Jayatilake’s third volume in the series on Global Literature, titled Canon or Dream?.  Readers are introduced to the history of publishing, with its white European gatekeepers who self-referenced knowledge within the bubble of the so-called early- and late-modern ‘publishing houses’. Her study, however goes beyond the narrow world view of the past, which is summarised under the short chapter ‘conform literature’, to move on to what was once termed atypical authorship. Jayatilake artfully demonstrates that this once-new paradigm in publishing has now become the de-facto face of world literature, after the movement #publishingpaidme changed the contractual terms between author and audience.

The conference organisers pushed the boundaries of thinking and behaviour at every juncture. Participants were encouraged to exercise at the Let’s Save What We Can gym, where the use of any machine resulted in electricity generation that offset the conference’s carbon footprint. Each ecologically sustainable meal was accompanied by placemats indicating the food’s cultural impact and its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, imperialism, and decolonisation. For those who preferred to fast-track their food intake with balanced protein infusions and less emotional baggage, many more opportunities were available during the traditional lunch slot. The self-guided tour of New Lagos on solar panel-powered air-peds was particularly popular due to the retro moped look of the vehicles. The architect and urban city mapper walking tour, with its visit to New Lagos’s floating apartments and gardens, was equally popular.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to those who attended the 37th UFD conference in New lagos and enriched us with your lively participation in panels, activities, and working groups. For those with further miles on the international travel contingent, we would like to remind you that the call for the forthcoming 38th UFD conference in Durban is already available.

The entrance to the Honeywell Auditorium was the site of many presentations in the UFD conference. It belongs to the building formerly known as the Lagos Business School, now the New Lagos Centre for Decolonial Theory and Praxis. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

Please note that the events and published works described above are entirely fictional and constitute part of a speculative exercise on the part of the Heritage as Placemaking research team. All views expressed are entirely those of the researchers.

Originally appears in Heritage as Placemaking, Co-authored by Stefanie Lotter and with with Binita Magaiya, Sabin Ninglekhu, Pooja Kalita, and Emiline Smith