Dublin's Last Supper. Artist: John Byrne.

interculturalism - Create News 3 (Sept 2007)

Dr Maurna Crozier, former Director, Cultural Diversity Programme, NI Community Relations Council interviews Dragan Klaic

In the late 1980s the all-pervasive ‘two traditions’ model of Irish society was being widened, mainly to be more inclusive of the variety of economic, social, gender and age differences which it failed to articulate.   It gave way to the more generic ‘cultural traditions’ which aimed to give a wider and more benign description to the great religious and political divisions for which Ireland was best known – but which was inaccurate almost as soon as coined, since it did not easily include the incomers bringing different cultural traditions to Ireland by the 1990s.   ‘Multi-cultural’ was then generally adopted as the easiest description of the new society which lived in Ireland, though in the north of Ireland ‘cultural diversity’ was the working term, since it incorporated both the malign divisions which were still evident and aspirations for the tolerant diversity which were shared with all of Europe.

While ‘multi-cultural’ always had the limitations of  ‘separate development’ assumptions, cultural diversity was more realistic in including a range of ethnic, faith and ideological communities, and in addition was included in the criteria for many arts, heritage and cultural programmes, with the intention of making  them inclusive of the many people who are resident on the island of Ireland.             

But just as the European – and indeed international norm – becomes familiar here, it is being challenged as a limiting and static term by Dragan Klaic:  *

‘Cultural diversity is not a panacea, and contains a high risk of ‘here’ and ‘there’’, of absorbing notions of difference and perpetuating them.   With intensive use its meaning has become ‘polluted’, through use by the cultural industries, and as a lever for support for ‘cultural exceptions’.   ‘Cultural diversity is a bit passive’, according to Klaic.      

His familiarity, both with many geographic areas of Europe and with its cultural institutions is impressive.   I speak to him in Budapest, and he works in Amsterdam; he speaks seven languages, and although he recognises the strength of English as a useful shared language, he criticises both the European Commission, and the EU member states, for doing very little to promote multi-lingualism which he sees as essential in order to build Europe as an ‘inclusive cultural space’.  

The term which he prefers in the pursuit of inclusivity, and which he finds ‘much more engaging and proactive than ‘cultural diversity’’ is ‘intercultural competence’.   This, he says is, ‘an attitude, a mentality and a skill, which enables me to interact with people who are a bit different but (with whom) I have a lot in common: our humanity, which we can recognise and share, and a skill, which enables me to act with others with curiosity and respect and with the feeling that I will be enriched.’  

Klaic is antagonistic and challenges the search for ‘identity’ which characterised much of European academic and popular dialogue in the late 20th century and early 21st century, as he sees it as being neither constructive or productive, since when one starts with identity one is immediately trying to alienate:  

The question ‘who I am’ is boring:  the question ‘who I might become’ is interesting, so I try to avoid all the identity searches which are self-limiting and curtailing and try to draw a line between ‘me, us, we’ – and ‘others’.   When we start with identity it (leads to) stasis and limitation, and it does not recognise social and cultural change.’

What a relief that is to the Irish-Identity Conference weary;  we can be what we feel, or aspire to in Ireland now, and share that aspiration with a genuine European like Dragan Klaic.   What a liberation.    For Klaic maintains firmly that ‘we have more in common than what separates us’.   While culture can be a barrier, it is not insurmountable, and intercultural competence helps us.

While at a personal level – always the starting point – this involves effort and skills (presumably linguistic ability might be one of these), intercultural competence in a cultural or arts organisation can be ‘orientation, strategy, policy and philosophy.   Ideally it will be part of institutional development at several levels.’  While all individuals need to work on their own competencies, it also needs to be a feature at ‘leadership and board  levels, and with staff, associated artists and so with the public.’   ‘In the theatre, to achieve intercultural understanding in the auditorium, it needs first to be on and behind the stage.’

Unsurprisingly, he asserts that he is definitely not talking about the tokenism of a multi-ethnic work-force, but of an inclusive developmental philosophy in cultural organisations, and he cites many good examples of interculturalism – in museums, festivals and theatre:   a performance by two dancers ‘Pichet Klunchun and Myself’ which premiered in Bangkok, then toured Europe, (including Project Arts Centre, Dublin in 2006 as part of the International Dance Festival) ‘provoked and delighted’;  the exhibition in Amsterdam of photographs taken by children on their return to Morocco for holidays, illustrating their ‘double existence’ through ‘what strikes their gaze as different when they go there’;   and an exhibition of emblematic objects chosen by the multi-ethnic residents of a city, through which they recreate cultural continuity as ‘new’ residents.’              

One of the Reports to which Dragan contributed (1) referred to ‘vulnerable cultural forms’ which were nevertheless capable of ‘dynamic intercultural involvement’,  and I asked him if he could elaborate on this – with relation to one of our public art forms in Ireland, memorials, and one of our best-known traditional activities, story telling.    Proving he is much more than a theoretician, he suggested that an international artist doing an art work inspired by a monument was a ‘very interesting experiment,’ and that story-telling was ‘an art form which could pop up in other media and could easily be re-cycled to other forms, with digital culture’.         

‘From Moscow to Dublin there is cultural convergence as similar needs, concerns and dilemmas need a policy response.   Cultural policy is increasingly the matter of cities and regions, and (there is) a great deal of diversity in solutions, (with) cities finding their own ways to deal with their urgencies’.      

It is these urgencies, in his most compelling view, which can best be addressed by increasing our intercultural competencies.  

Who wouldn’t raise a glass to that?         

(1)   Final Report of the Reflection Group of the European Cultural Foundation 2002-2004. 

 

Dragan Klaic will be a keynote speaker at the Public Art Symposium hosted by Create in association with Leitrim County Council Arts Office, at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Sept 13/14.

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