The art behind development

CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT Ismail Serageldin Producer and director Katrina J Ecolivet Produced by the World Bank 52 mins

By Seema Kalra
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Can culture be ignored by those who are involved in the process of development. "No," says Ismail Serageldin, vice-president for Environmentally Sustainable Development in the World Bank. According to him, true development cannot take place without taking into account the cultural aspects of the society in question.

It is this perspective on culture and development that he tries to push in this video, which is a filmed version of his lecture at the International Conference on Culture and Development in Africa in 1992.

To illustrate his point, he uses examples from art, architecture, painting, sculpture and calligraphy. And to explain the intricacies of culture and its relationship with development, he focuses on the Muslim cultures of the African, West Asian and Far Eastern countries.

Browsing through museums, he exposes the dichotomy between modernity and tradition. For instance, asymmetry, which is an essential, if not radically formative, part of modern art, can be seen in some ancient ceramic plates. There are many other modern patterns that are slight variations of what was once inscribed on canteens and bowls in early Egypt. Superficial symbols such as veils on women are associated with Muslim culture, but a clip of Christian women in Cairo in 1923 shows them wearing veils. Similarly, minarets and domes on mosques have been rendered part of a Muslim identity, having worked their way up from initially having served as landmarks that guided travellers.

The work of the people, in their immediate contexts, gives body to their artistic choices, discourses, and styles. The same work in a larger context then becomes a system of production and a way of life for that particular society.

Serageldin also maintains that the bonds that hold society together are snipped and weakened at a rate faster than the rate of increase in the economic options for a given community, then it will be heading inexorably towards a social disaster.

The only way to strike a balance and to prevent the cataclysm would be to empower people to themselves build their own cultural institutions and work towards their own welfare and sublimation. This philosophy is certainly neither new nor pathbreaking. One is left at sea after such an extensive discourse on culture and development on how to bring about such a change in developing societies.

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