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Art challenging what Europe is about

Ulrike Meinhof explains why the cultural productions of migrants from all around the world are part of European Culture.
When I talk about European culture, I would look at it as all the kinds of cultural practises of all the people who populate the European continent and it’s many Islands. So it’s not who is kind of European, European, but it’s people who live here, because it’s a much more inclusive view, because what it recognises is that European culture is made up of many cultural practises and artefacts that has throughout history come from very different people moving in and out and across the spaces of Europe. So it was always– European culture has always been a result of the mixing of influences from all over the world. I had a good friend, the anthropologist Brian Street.
He once said to me– he said, culture is a verb, i.e. it’s always in flux, and you can’t easily pin it down. And I like that because it recognises movement and change. So I don’t know if that answers your question. But this is really the way I see culture European culture as an extremely broad and inclusive term. [BELL]
In my own research, I’ve always tried to look at different crossovers between the kind of cultural practises that I just outlined because that make it much more clearer. Yes. Because on the one hand, I’m working with what is considered to be really high, high culture, if you like. So I’m working with one of the most established and important festivals, opera festivals in the UK, which is the Glyndebourne Opera. But I don’t work with the mainstream festival. But I work with the youth opera with their education programme.
Now that means that already, that bridges one of these big gaps between high culture and the population, because a lot of the high cultural that we refer to, like in opera houses and so, tends to be populated by rather older people. And young people find it quite difficult sometimes to engage with that. So what Glyndebourne Opera does, it actually tries to bridge this gap by involving young people in not just doing classical opera, which they do– they actually learn with teachers how to do that– but also doing cutting edge new opera. So this already cuts across this divide between different generations, and different kinds of people, because they are setting this up.
So that’s one part of my work, if you like, that represents the most established view of high culture. But on the other hand, that is where my Malagasy musicians come in, because when you see that the way in which people who live in Europe are contributing to our cultural practises, then of course, migrant populations have always been very significant. Now, at the moment, obviously we think of migration maybe all the people who are coming in from Syria as a result of all these horrible wars that are going on everywhere in the world.
But when I look at the people I’ve been working with, these have been migrants who have come decades ago to Europe, and doing their music, and practicing their music as a result of many influences between what they found in Europe, and what they’ve brought with themselves. So that is much more challenging, if you like, to say, well, this is also European culture in the sense that these are cultural practises of European citizens.
So whereas I have no problem to convince people that what I’m doing in Glyndebourne is researching the cultures of Europe, I have a much greater problem to convince people that when I’m working with migrants and their cultural practises, that this is also part of European cultural heritage, and makes an enormous contribution to our quality of life in Europe. And that’s a much harder one. So there, I am having to work much harder to make people see what this actually does.

In this video, Ulrike Meinhof, from the University of Southampton, explains that she conceives European culture as the mixing of elements and artefacts from all around the world.

She challenges the traditional understanding of European culture, in her research on the cultural production of migrants in Europe. She argues that their art productions, which result from the interaction of diverse influences, is part of European culture, although it is often labelled as non-European.

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Do you agree with this inclusive conception of European culture?

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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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