The potential of migrations to re-frame European cultural heritage Back

The potential of migrations to re-frame European cultural heritage

MARGINAL is a cultural association based in Palermo that uses spatial and anthropological tools to research marginalised territories and to propose alternative models of development and integration.

We interviewed Francesca Gattello and Zeno Franchini, who are part of a group of professionals and cultural workers that try deconstructing the dominant patterns of inequality, by tackling issues related to migration, climate change and urban peripheries. “Since we started in Sicily, we are busy constructing a network to empower citizens of the island as well as local newcomers and temporary residents through material culture and the making of object,” says Francesca.

MARGINAL applied to our Culture of Solidarity fund with their project FULCRUM. Starting from an investigation on material culture, they invite artisans of any ethnicity to collaborate. They engage migrants and local craftsmen to overturn the host-guest power relation, triggering encounters of local traditional expertise with the knowledge displaced by human migrations.

“We research, experiment, and prototype earthen construction techniques, using natural fibers and woodwork in order to create an archive of sustainable design tools,” they explain. All the results will be included in an online archive that shows the importance of preserving the know-how of these cultures, which they believe is fundamental for the future of sustainable design and architecture. For MARGINAL fears this type of circular knowledge is disappearing from the European craftsmanship as well as from African and Asian ones. This archive reconstructs a shared heritage online, which could become the working basis for any other inclusive project to start constructive interactions between the traditions.

photo courtesy of MARGINAL

Since a few years MARGINAL experiments with different formats to allow more people to participate in their projects and enable them to make a living out of crafting and creative work. From urban regeneration of public spaces to handcrafts, from academic workshops to visual productions, they aim to reframe the meaning of social design.

For years, they develop activities related to the interconnection of sustainable design and migrants’ heritages. But the pandemic made many layers of urban inequality visible that need to be addressed as well.  During the lockdown MARGINAL took part in the distribution of free meals for the Iftar – the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast. This initiative revealed to be a vital action to calm social tensions in Palermo: due to the high unemployment rate and fragile informal economies, home confinement meant no food on the table for more than 5000 families, and no safety net to turn to in the short term. The evening meal was distributed for free in public space at sunset, yet not only Muslims were coming, but many people in need showed up.

This emergency action was locally crowdfunded and made MARGINAL realise how this was an important moment of solidarity and how the city still needs it, both on a social and cultural level. The simple gesture of sharing meal had a completely different meaning in the middle of a pandemic: it was socially transversal and dealt with urban poverty through a convivial happening. At the same time, they witnessed many bars and restaurants taking over public space and going en plein air. They imagined a combination of this new normal conviviality and an itinerant food distribution, like the one they helped establish for the Iftar. A mobile structure will serve this purpose. In the coming months, MARGINAL will work on earthen architecture techniques to build a shared kitchen and convivial spaces, for the organisation of free meal distributions – respecting COVID restriction measures. At the same time, they will host co-design sessions to enable sharing of knowledge between migrants and locals about materials and techniques.

photo courtesy of MARGINAL

Europe welcomes foreign communities allowing their diversity to thrive and MARGINAL acknowledges this diversity as vital for our future and the possibility to reframe Europe as a hub for democracy, innovation, and culture.  FULCRUM wants to change the way we “welcome” the foreigner, breaking away from euro-centrism: and it should start exactly from the way we perceive other cultures. Material culture, often neglected in favour of discursive verbal interactions, is the common ground for exchange and an effective way to contribute to mutual curiosity beyond linguistic and religious barriers. FULCRUM is an inquiry into the potential of migrations re-framing contemporary European heritage, a model and a methodology which can be replicated in any arrival city.

MARGINAL wants to build a European network that allows migrant craftsmen to restore the material cultures of their countries of origin and enrich European ones. This exchange of skills enables local people to learn from newcomers and vice versa. They believe the European heritage is the product of all incoming “Others” , and see this process continuing into the future.

How does the project create an open and shared European public space?
FULCRUM develops a dialogue among people of opposite backgrounds: Sicilian artisans, migrants, young and unemployed people. Fostering interactions through participatory practices and object making is a way to shape a shared intercultural heritage and to create new visions for social coexistence. They are convinced interactions based on seeing the other are bearers of unique knowledge.

The project creates a shared facility for food distribution in public space, re-evaluating vernacular and material heritage in the process, by combining design processes and social practices. The marginalised cultures are an important input as they demonstrate that craft traditions have always been transitory, hybridisation processes by definition.

MARGINAL sees incorporating the influxes from Asia and Africa as one of the last possibilities for European modernity to be a place for culture, a place for sustainable development and social justice. FULCRUM wants to contribute to contemporary debates around Europe’s values of today, especially in relation to peripheral territories.

Granted: 25.000 euros