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BRICS and the establishment of a global socio-cultural architecture

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Several reports have already appeared on aspects of cultural dimensions of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Admittedly, BRICS has broadened its scope of operations and activities, indicating its strength and the level of its development. As already known, Russia has passed on the BRICS Chairmanship to India, which officially starts January 2021. That however, Kester Kenn Klomegah from Modern Diplomacy contacted to know a few more detailed developments in the cultural directions of BRICS.

Elena Marinina, Co-Chair of the International Cultural Exchange Group of the BRICS Civil Forum, Deputy CEO of the Roscongress Foundation and Director of the Innosocium Foundation, discusses the question of cultural diversities among BRICS members, the various initiatives that were adopted during the last interactive working session, and combined efforts to pave the way forward with the Association of NGOs as part of BRICS. Here are the interview excerpts:

Q: How do you assess the importance and the results of the online roundtable discussions on “International Cultural Cooperation for Strengthening BRICS Unity” moderated from Moscow?

Marinina: A lot of serious preparatory work went into the roundtable at the BRICS Civil Forum. The International Cultural Exchange Working Group collected recommendations and initiatives from representatives of various public organizations and institutions, foundations, and socially oriented businesses of the five BRICS countries. All of these recommendations and initiatives were presented during the roundtable, given a serious and balanced assessment.

Cultural exchanges, protecting the cultural heritage of our countries, getting young people involved in the culture of BRICS countries, and developing tourism are the priority focuses that formed the basis of our draft communiqué that was presented to the heads of state at the BRICS Summit under the presidency of the Russian Federation. All the members of the working group, which included more than 30 representatives of the alliance’s member states, agreed that we should join efforts to develop sustainable cultural cooperation between BRICS countries.

It is crucial that all the recommendations are very clear, whether it is the establishment of the BRICS Advanced Thinking and Research Centre or an internship programme for the different activities of young professionals, holding the annual BRICS Literature Fair, or the creation of a general register of cultural, architectural, and landscape monuments of BRICS member states with their subsequent inclusion in the World Heritage List. In other words, we not only outlined paths for further cultural cooperation between our countries, but also identified specific projects that will establish this cooperation.

Of course, we must also keep in mind that many of the projects that have been announced overlap with the competencies of other working groups, which once again demonstrates the diversity and breadth of the coverage of such a phenomenon as culture. Along with the economy, culture is the foundation on which countries build relations.

Q: In your opinion as a member of the BRICS Working Group on Culture, do you agree that there are some diversities in culture among the group? Russia, India and China are geographically close, Brazil and South Africa a bit distant – but do this present any challenges in realizing fully the expected tourism and cultural dimension of BRICS?

Marinina: The vision of man and the world is truly distinct for different nations, and sometimes even the exact opposite in some ways. If we are talking about culture, uniformity is unacceptable even within a single country. The main thing that unites the representatives of BRICS countries, though, is the desire to speak from a unified position on the global development of civil society and the establishment of a global socio-cultural architecture, and in this regard, the diversity of the cultural codes of BRICS is more of a unique advantage than a disadvantage. We understand this very well in Russia. As a multinational, multicultural, and multilingual country, Russia is always open to dialogue with other peoples. We see the same approach from our foreign partners.

We are already actively collaborating with representatives of BRICS member countries as part of the events of the Roscongress Foundation’s social platform – the Innosocium Foundation. For example, we recently launched the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance, whose agenda not only covers economic issues, but also cross-cultural exchange and the implementation of joint projects in creative industries and education. The upcoming Eurasian Women’s Forum, which will be held in September 2021 in St. Petersburg, will feature a discussion platform on women’s involvement in the creative economy. As the organizers of Russian Creativity Week, we are also looking forward to seeing creative representatives from BRICS countries at our event in Moscow in summer 2021.

As for tourism, the deterrent today is not so much the geographical position of countries as it is the closure of borders due to the pandemic. However, this is a temporary factor. The final recommendations of the International Cultural Exchange Working Group are designed for a longer horizon and contain a wide range of measures that aim to develop the tourism potential of BRICS countries. This primarily includes the BRICS Cultural Tourism project, which seeks to consider the possibility of direct communication between BRICS nations, simplify the visa procedure for citizens of BRICS countries, open guide schools, and develop tourism routes in the group’s countries. We are also planning to hold the annual five-nation ‘BRICS – Our Common Home’ Cultural Festival, the ‘Great BRICS Cities’ project, various championships, and several other interesting initiatives.

One thing I am definitely certain of is that with all the differences in lifestyle, mentality, and traditions, as we travel or communicate and learn about the culture of another country, we are building a policy of intercultural relations and erecting a big BRICS house brick by brick, where common moral values will shape its foundation.

Q: Could you discuss some of the initiatives that were presented during the meeting? What initiatives presented by Russia, the Chair of BRICS 2020? What were the reactions of your colleagues from Brazil, India, China and South Africa?

Marinina:First of all, I would like to remind you that the BRICS Civil Forum itself was launched in 2015 based on an initiative put forward during the Russian presidency in order to convey the priorities of society and present civil initiatives to the leaders of the five countries. Over the past years, this format has proven to be useful and effective for cooperation between the public organizations of the association’s countries.

The 2020 BRICS Civil Forum came up with public initiatives for healthcare during the pandemic as well as social equality and addressed issues concerning the environment and climate change, the development of green energy, civil rights and freedoms, in addition to the role of education and science in human development. As I already mentioned, we devoted great attention to getting young people involved in the culture of BRICS countries, developing cultural exchanges through literature and art, and protecting cultural heritage as the basis for international cooperation and tourism.

In addition, as part of the cultural focus of the BRICS Civil Forum, Russia presented a number of projects dedicated to the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II. These projects include an initiative to establish the ‘World Day of War Veterans’ under a UN resolution, the international project ‘Libraries as Witnesses of the Great Victory’ based on the materials of the national libraries and archives of BRICS countries, and the five-nation literary and historical project ‘BRICS Peoples: Dedicated to War Heroes’.

All these initiatives were included in the final recommendations and not only garnered broad support from our colleagues in BRICS, but also from participants who were invited from other countries in Europe and Asia. We had a comprehensive exchange of views and engaged in fruitful and interesting work.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, we also invited the working group members to the second Russian Creativity Week Festival and Forum in Moscow in summer 2021, which the Innosocium Foundation is organizing jointly with the Russian Cultural Centre. The event was held for the first time in September 2020 and immediately received international recognition, as evidenced both by the scale of foreign participants as well as their active involvement in the event’s programme.

Q: Now judging from the discussion, what could be the best way to systematize and to combine efforts in implementing all these new initiatives and recommendations arrived at the Civil BRICS 2020? In your view, how do you also see the way forward for the Association of NGOs as part of BRICS?

Marinina: The institutionalization of cultural ties is a key part of our draft communiqué. During the meetings, many Russian and international members of the working group from the five nations advocated for the creation of a ‘Union (Association) of BRICS Non-Governmental Organizations’ and the formation of a single network of BRICS NPOs. I am certain that this will enable us to engage in clear and properly coordinated manner, hold a constructive dialogue with the leaders of states and governments, and jointly implement the proposals and initiatives that received support at the BRICS Civil Forum. (Modern Diplomacy).

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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UNGA76: Giant eco-friendly artwork set to inspire world leaders

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An aerial view over the UN headquarters in NY shows the giant 11'000 square meters (118'000 sq ft) biodegradeable ephemeral fresco "Work in Progress II". Valentin Flauraud for Saype

A new 11,000 square metre ‘ephemeral fresco’ created by Swiss artist Saype, has set the stage at UN Headquarters in New York, to welcome world leaders for the General Assembly High Level Week. It shows two children building the world of the future using origami, highlighting the participation of young people. 

World in Progress II is perfectly suited to our time and place. First, it is, in all senses, a big picture.  Both its execution and its subject are monumental and ambitious.  We have to take several steps back, just to view it in its entirety.  Then we understand that it shows two children, designing their ideal world together”, said on Saturday UN Secretary General during the unveiling ceremony.

Antonio Guterres explained that, just like the artwork, the United Nations’ mission extends far beyond what we can see around us. “Most of it lies out of our view. Our work is multilateral, and multi-generational. And each of us plays an essential part in creating the whole”, he added.

Earth-friendly art

Guillaume Legros, or “Saype”, an artist name inspired by the contraction of the words “say” and “peace”, is famous for its invention of an eco-friendly painting process. His special technique allows him to create huge frescoes directly on the grass.

“In two weeks, there will be nothing left due to the regrowth of the grass. This makes the work disappear, even more than the rain”, he explained to UN News, adding that he spent more than a year finding the right pigments for his ephemeral art.

Saype had already shared one of his creations at UN premises before. Last year, World in Progress I was unveiled during the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In the centre, there is a dove that symbolizes peace. The basic idea is that on the one hand when talking about children, we ask ourselves what responsibility we have towards them. But, on the other hand, they are the ones who will have the world of tomorrow in their hands. This means that we must really learn to live together in a world that is also hyper-connected”, he said.

A call to world leaders

For the UN chief, the children depicted in World in Progress II are designing our shared future. 

“This year’s General Debate will take up this theme, focusing on the world we are building together. My recent report on Our Common Agenda recommends new ways for today’s decision-makers to better serve both young people, and future generations”.

Mr. Guterres said he was hopeful that world leaders will take inspiration from Saype’s art to consider how “we can look beyond our immediate surroundings, while respecting nature and our planet”.

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Bengal’s Thriving Cotton Handloom Tant Textile Crafts Looming

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India being a diverse nation endorses and nourishes indigenous ethnic crafts. Every region of India has to offer thriving cultural heritages, a few of those receiving the attention of the mainstream population, while several are failing to do so. Once glorified Bengal’s Handloom Tant Textile Crafts falls into the second category, as it’s lost the place to be under the spotlight. Even though “Every Handloom Tant Textile Crafts has a unique story to tell—as it is inheriting one of the finest and ancient weaving mechanisms that sprouted in nowhere other than Bengal. Dating back to the 15th century and leaving remarkably earliest trace from Nadia District of West Bengal Handloom Tant Textile Crafts received Royal patronage and retained popularity throughout centuries. Its uniqueness lies in design which mostly includes the depiction of ancient Bengali cultural influences and reflection of Bengali flair. In that sense, Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are very much connected to the soil of Bengal and utterly reflects sustainable, indigenous initiative within the millennials weavers of Bengal, who still feel connected to the ancient essence.  

Origins

The word ‘Tant’ indicates the cotton-based Handloom Textile Crafts, includes Handloom weaved Textiles including Saris, Cloth pieces, Dupattas, Bed Sheets etc.

Shantipur of undivided Bengal, now in Nadia district of West Bengal having earliest record of Handloom Tant Crafts weaving back to 15th century. It remained dominant cultural tradition from 16th to the 18th century and received extensive royal patronage along with the world-famous Muslin and Jamdani Sari of the same genre. In 1947 after the partition of Bengal, a hefty number of weavers migrated especially from Tangail Bangladesh to India and received rehabilitation in different regions including Phulia, Shantipur. Weavers bore their lineal Handloom Tant Textile weaving Crafts with them. Residual weaver communities got settled in the Hooghly and Bardhaman regions of West Bengal. Since then, each region has developed its signature style.

The weaving Technique

Handloom Tant Textile Craftsare woven with locally produced Bengal cotton. The kind of fine handspun yarn being used for Weaving of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts once applied in weaving soft, feather-light Muslin and Mulmul textiles that have been exported and adored globally for ages. The fineness of weaved cotton depends on the yarn quality and it is on the yarn that the textile is fine (combed cotton) or coarser (regular cotton).

Cotton being deftly woven to the thread is further being woven by craftsmen to Tant Textile. It is customary to use shuttles. Though nowadays handlooms have largely been replaced by power looms to weave Tant Textiles, which compromising the quality of Tant Textiles pushing environment-friendly, electricity-saving Handloom on the verge of extinction.

Popular motifs in use

The most popular Handloom Tant Textile Crafts product is Sari. The handloom Tant Textile crafts products other than Sari also depict motifs like Sari. A quintessential six-yard Tant Sari is distinguished by a thick two-to-four-inch border and a decorative Aanchal. Weavers use fine cotton yarn to manifest a variety of floral, paisley, and artistic motifs, attached to the culture of Bengal. Some of the most adored time-honoured motifs of West Bengal’s Handloom Tant include bhomra (bumblebee), tabij (amulet), rajmahal (a royal palace), ardha Chandra (half-moon), chandmala (garland of moons), ansh (fish scales), hathi (elephant), nilambari (blue sky), ratan chokh (gem-eyed), benki (spiral), tara (star), kalka (paisley) and phool (flowers), etc. Apart from these regional trends are being followed.

Why Handloom Tant Textile Crafts losing the interest of the mainstream population and what are the way forward?

Because of the advertisement and marketing industry the youth generations are mainly inclined towards high-shine clothing, heavy silks and zari, ignoring or being unaware of clothing science and technology. Handloom Tant Textiles, in comparison, is a modest, soothing clothing based on environment-friendly technique which add real charm to Tant. Elderly people are not even aware of the positive aspects of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts, due to no such promotion leading the Crafts to evade.

What is in particular in Tant to rethink its revival?

Handloom Tant Crafts comes under the range of heritage textiles of West Bengal. Sari-loving Indian women would certainly like to acquire collection of handloom saris from across India. While Handloom Tant Textile Sari would certainly give the blended feeling of heritage and comfort. Most of the Sari-wearing Indian women find themselves particularly attached to Bengal’s Handloom Tant and Jamdani Sari. Jamdani Sari belongs to the same genre of Handloom Tant. Tant Jamdani from Dhaka and Shantipur is exceptionally lightweight, characterized by intricately designed motifs that seem to float on the surface of the translucent ultra-fine textile, giving it an almost mystical grace in appearance.

Moreover, Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are comfortable to wear in tropical climatic zones of the world. Tropical, subtropical climates of the Indian subcontinent are exceptionally fine to wear and use such textiles. While most of the raw material being used and the technology being followed in Handloom Tant Textile Crafts is nature friendly and indigenous for the subcontinent. Revival, then on the restoration of the lost glory of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts of Bengal will certainly promote environment-friendly sustainable textile technology basing on the growth of the home-based cottage industry of West Bengal. Employing Indian youth in the process may revamp the initiative in the way Handloom Tant Textile Crafts would get a modern outlook and that will generate youth entrepreneurs to promote indigenous industries and a lot more positive things would happen in this row.

How important the present time is to preserve Handloom Tant Crafts? what could be the way forward?

As an economic industrial activity, the ‘Tantshilpa/Tant Crafts’ (the art of weaving handloom Textiles) is second only to agriculture in providing a livelihood to the people of certain regions of West Bengal. Ravaging the hope of business in Bengali New Year on April 14, 2020 the ongoing pandemic and ensuing lockdown have led to insurmountable losses to Textile Industry. Handloom Tant Textiles also facing a tremendous challenge for decades losing the interest of younger generations owing to its traditionalism and maintenance cost.  The need of the hour is to activate retail for existing stock using e-commerce and involving youth to regenerate the work chain and boost business. The genesis of interest towards such heritage and endangered craft like Handloom Tant Textiles can restore the sentiment and attachment of weavers’ communities. 

Organizing regular workshops with the weavers offering creative concept and textile design expertise in developing an ongoing collection of modern Tant saris and textiles that can bring the Handloom Tant Industry on-trend. While Tant is a versatile and comfortable fabric especially suited in the climate of India and considerable places of the world and also lends itself well to soft furnishings home decors cum comfortable garments.

Classified Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are being picked by authentic celebrities, dignified women. To revive the Indian Economy in the post-pandemic global crisis, promotion of indigenous Industries based on the authentic handmade, handloom, and traditional crafts are the way out, which is also environment friendly. ‘Make in India’ and ‘buy local’ is more relevant now than ever before, as each locally-made purchase directly supports indigenous industry, regional to global work circle, in turn, funds its makers, that is, the craftsmen/women in every level.

The hands that nourish tradition, indigenous crafts need to be celebrated. Direct connection of remote areas Handloom Tant Textiles weavers with well-structuredHandloom Tant Textile Craftswork chain is the way forward that less known regions areas of West Bengal like Santipur, Phulia, Nadia, and Dhaniakhali get counted in the global map of Textile industry representing the glorious Handloom Tant Textile Crafts of Bengal.

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Copenhagen named UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture for 2023

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The city of Copenhagen has been officially designated as World Capital of Architecture for 2023 by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, on the recommendation of the General Assembly of the International Union of Architects (UIA).

This decision is in keeping with the partnership agreement established between UNESCO and the UIA in 2018, through which UNESCO designates the host cities of UIA’s World Congress as World Capitals of Architecture. “We are very happy to see the torch of the World Capital of Architecture title pass to Copenhagen from Rio de Janeiro,” Audrey Azoulay said. “The inaugural World Capital of Architecture in Rio was a real success, underlining the important role of urban planning, notably in the pandemic context”, she noted, adding that “Copenhagen will build upon Rio’s achievements, by continuing to show the way in which architecture and culture can respond to the challenges of our time, especially in the environmental field.”

UNESCO and the UIA launched the World Capital of Architecture initiative to highlight the key role of architecture, city planning, and culture in shaping urban identity and sustainable urban development. Every three years, the city designated as World Capital of Architecture becomes a global forum at the forefront of discussions on contemporary urban planning and architectural issues.

As the World Capital of Architecture for 2023, Copenhagen will host a series of major events and programmes on the theme “Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind.” In cooperation with the Danish Association of Architects and various Nordic professional bodies, the municipality will examine how architecture and urban design contribute to meeting the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

From 18 to 22 July 2021, Rio de Janeiro will host the World Congress of Architects online. Following Copenhagen in 2023, Barcelona and Beijing are the two contenders looking to claim the World Capital of Architecture title in 2026 and host the next World Congress. The official decision will be made later this year.

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