Blog Post

The List to Watch

What impressed me about World Monuments Fund and the panel deliberations over the 2022 Watch selection was its commitment to communities today, their priorities and values, and addressing human rights globally, not simply the vast undertaking of conserving heritage.

That commitment to elevating underrepresented heritage means more than identifying and preserving the material vestiges of other people’s pasts. There is a real urgency in recognizing and repairing the damage right here at home, both material and historical. That support was demonstrated clearly in this year’s Watch selection with two sites in the United States. In the case of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama, inclusion on the 2022 Watch will bring further visibility to a shameful episode in history— the last known illegal shipment of enslaved people from the Kingdom of Dahomey to the United States. Enslaved people were smuggled on the Clotilda, a ship that was subsequently burned to conceal its illicit cargo. More than 30 people from the Yoruba, Ewe, and Fon courageously forged their own community in what became Africatown.

The Watch also recognized, with great concern, the plight of the Esto’k Gna, the Native American stewards of Garcia Pasture, Texas. Inclusion on the Watch is critical here in order to focus global attention on addressing Indigenous rights in the United States. That means honoring the rights of Indigenous owners to use, develop, and control their ancestral lands, and to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with the land. Garcia Pasture and its place on the Watch also signifies a commitment to bridging cultural and natural heritage values, in this instance to halt the decimation of cultural lifeways coupled with environmental destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry.

Advocacy is paramount, and in another case of underrepresented heritage, the Watch supported the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home in New South Wales, Australia—an institution implicated in the trauma of Australia’s Stolen Generations. Through its international programs and visibility, the Watch can shine a light on communities and struggles for recognition and sovereignty that can easily be elided by national authorities. Other examples include Sumba Island in Indonesia and Soqotra in Yemen, both of which have communities striving to retain their traditional crafts and knowledge systems in the face of conflict and climate change. For those of us who are wary of the purely monumental approach, where saving historic places is deemed more important than the plight of people, the Watch offers an alternative vision for what conservation and communities can achieve together.

This is indeed the list to watch.