The term cultural heritage conjures up an idea of a single society with distinctive characteristics. But cultural boundaries are not necessarily sharply defined. In many ways, people from various cultures share similar values and skills, from masks of Africa to the architecture of freed African-American slaves. Such differences can have long-lasting effects on the way people live, think, and work. Cultural heritage also serves as an important source of inspiration for artists, scientists, craftsmen, and musicians.
The concept of cultural heritage is frequently used in a way that obfuscates its significance, often resulting in controversial or even misunderstood critiques. The distinction between official and unofficial heritage can be useful for challenging dominant historical narratives. Yet, some scholars remain reluctant to use process-oriented heritage approaches in favor of traditional material concerns. In these cases, they may believe that material values of official heritage are meaningful. While this is true, other perspectives can challenge traditional evaluative assumptions.
While many contemporary artists use appropriation, many have argued that this practice is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, appropriation can actually be a productive use of cultural heritage. Using a cultural object in an art form that has been used by other groups, such as a popular song, may make the work more valuable. Some people may even consider appropriation as a way to increase their own productivity, rather than a harmful or negative outcome.
While many countries have a rich cultural heritage, others are at risk of losing it due to armed conflict, social persecution, and terrorism. The jihadist group ISIS has burned down a city in Mali, the Taliban has looted ancient treasures, and the Rohingya are facing oppression and repression in Myanmar. Similarly, the Chinese government persecutes Tibetans and Uighurs.
The UNDRIP recognizes continuing cultural ties between nations and their cultures. It also lays out how to allocate cultural patrimony that has been lost. This means that the owner of cultural property may have a right to an equitable solution, although this depends on the circumstances. If there is a continuing link between the two cultures, the property can be transferred. In some cases, the rights of a person may even be ascribed to the property, regardless of the ownership of the property.
Protecting cultural property is an age-old problem, and the balance between public and private rights is often difficult to strike. Ancient Romans understood that private works of art shared a common value. They ruled that sculptures decorated private buildings could not be removed. But modern cultural heritage laws are not as clear. And there are many cases of appropriation, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The question of who owns cultural property is a long-standing debate in contemporary art.
The concepts of stewardship and ownership of cultural property are also difficult to define. The 3 R’s of cultural property – rights, imports, and exports – are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, the concepts of cultural property are generally referred to as cultural property, and are not incompatible with the concept of alienation. This approach entails that a property has value and must be returned to its cultural group.