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Contemporary Authenticity on the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco, Peru

G51 European Research Institute, University of Birmingham
Arts and Law, International, Research
Wednesday 9th May 2012 (17:00-18:30)
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Intersections of Heritage and Tourism in a World Heritage City

Helaine Silverman
Professor, Department of Anthropology
Director, CHAMP/Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This talk examines how a charismatic mayor of Cuzco – former capital of the ancient Inca Empire – sought to change the city’s cultural attitudes, political realities and national reputation by means of a comprehensive program of assertive physical interventions in the historic fabric of the then newly inscribed World Heritage site.

Image of the MacDonalds on the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco, Peru

Over the course of eight years the mayor inserted Inca-themed fountains, monuments, statues, wall murals and other decorative art in the urban landscape. He also created a new theatrical script for a popular festival so as to invoke legitimation by the Incas of the contemporary city government. The mayor believed these visible references to the glorious prehispanic past would instil pride of identity and place among the local population that had been marginalised for centuries. His intent was not to create a living museum of past-looking and past-acting residents. Rather, he proposed to use history, heritage and performance to inspire Cuzqueños toward a modern, economically prosperous and politically enfranchised future.

Although criticised by the conservative elite of Cuzco for disturbing the authenticity of Cuzco’s built environment, no complaints were or have been issued against the rampant, rapid transformation of the social and architectural heart of the renowned historic district into Peru’s premier tourist zone – a process completed a few months ago with the introduction of Starbucks, replacement of the last remaining local café by KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and opening of MacDonalds on the Plaza de Armas. I deploy the concept of “contemporary authenticity” to interrogate these changes and the relationships between cultural heritage, globalisation and mass tourism.

Helaine Silverman is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois and Director of the university’s Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy (CHAMP). She is an expert member of ICOMOS’ International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management (ICAHM). Professor Silverman is the editor of the ‘Heritage, Tourism and Community’ book series for Left Coast Press and co-editor of ICAHM/Springer’s monograph series ‘Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Archaeological Heritage Management.’ Among her own publications are Archaeological Site Museums in Latin America (University Press of Florida, 2006), Cultural Heritage and Human Rights  (Springer, 2007), Intangible Heritage Embodied (Springer, 2009) and Contested Cultural Heritage (Springer, 2011). She is currently conducting research on heritage, tourism, community sustainability and cultural change in Peru and Thailand.

Contact Details:

Caroline Ashton
Events Manager 
College of Arts and Law
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT
Tel: 0121 414 9136

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