Creative Heritage: Palestinian Heritage NGOs and Defiant Arts of Government

Chiara De Cesari
American Anthropologist

Beyond the commonsense dichotomy between art as radical practice and heritage as conservation, this article analyzes Palestinian heritage as the ambiguous terrain where these two practices meet, creating a language that is both locally rooted and cosmopolitan. By examining the recent Palestinian art biennales (biennials), I show how heritage-informed art functions as a platform for performing the future Palestinian nation-state. Organized by a heritage organization, the biennales highlight the creativity of a new generation of Palestinian heritage NGOs, which continue a local social-organizing tradition marked by the alliance between heritage, the arts, and liberation politics. This cultural production undermines a traditional dichotomy between heritage and counter-memory because it represents both part of a state-building project and an act of anticolonial resistance, suspended between what scholars term “transnational governmentality” and “counter-governmentality.” I argue that Palestinian heritage practices constitute a form of nonstate governmentality. In this context, problems of representation acquire strong relevance.