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Using tagging technologies to preserve indigenous cultures

As I mentioned in my last blog post, for TOTeM we’re collecting some stories from some First Nation people in Canada. At Dundee, we’ve been collecting the first stories of objects, and mostly at the moment art objects. This has lead us to collaborate with another research group at who have been working at establishing a print studio in the North West Territories of Canada for the community to use. In this way there is a means of preserving traditions, capturing stories and enabling the community to create works for sale to provide an income stream that would further enable financial sustainability. And of course, printmaking is fun and brings people together.

I have been working through two great guys, Scott and Paul, who have been going out to Canada and setting up the Sambaa K'e print studio. The artworks coming out of the studio are really amazing and I’ve learnt so much about the Dene culture through the stories. Because we weren’t sure if the community would be interested in working with the TOTeM project, Scott did a workshop with the children of the community to tell the stories of the favourite thing or place. It went so well that now more people are becoming involved and we’re tagging artworks with stories. In October this year, they’ll be part of an exhibition at the Anstruther Scottish Fisheries Museum, and I'm quite excited about seeing it all come together.  What I like about what we’re doing is that the community we’re working with is of an oral tradition, and with the use of audio, we are able to preserve that too. The lovely aspect of hearing someone tell a story, I hope will bring people closer together.

We’ll have an opportunity through tagging artworks, to let others know about a culture and traditions that may not otherwise have access to, and in doing so provide a platform for sustaining and preserving what is important to a community. What’s great about it all, is that through tagging and mobile technologies, the audience becomes wider and more global, raising awareness of cultures that may otherwise be lost. Interestingly another group in Chile is also going down the path of tagging to preserve indigenous culture with the project Coded Stories. Artist Guillermo Bert has been working with Maupache weavers in Chile to create QR code weavings that link to poetry and stories from writers, artisans, healers and village elders. The Maupache are Chile’s largest indigenous population, who have fought to protect their identity for over 300 years. Recently they have begun to reassert their cultural and political rights within the framework of modern Chilean society. But their way of life continues to be threatened, and their language and stories have started to disappear. Bert has worked with the community to try and reverse this, through the creation of woven, encoded textiles and a film, which will be shown at the Pasedena Museum of California Art, also in October:

Los Angeles-based artist Guillermo Bert's exhibition Encoded Textiles is inspired by the latest generation of bar codes (QR codes), their capacity to hold 200 times more information than traditional bar codes, and the graphic similarities between the bar codes and the textiles of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. With the use of high-tech software and industrial processes, Bert transcribes the stories, poems, and narratives of six influential leaders of indigenous communities into QR codes, which are then re-created into tapestries by indigenous weavers. Bert's project, an exploration of technology, language, and cultural heritage, seeks to open a dialogue about the effects of globalization on the worlds indigenous population.”

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