Think of “monuments” and, perhaps, try not to yawn. Marble statues, obelisks, forgotten histories… However, throughout this month of September Wikimedia hosted the WikiLovesMonuments photo contest, reinvigorating the idea of what monuments are, and why the general public should care about them.
It is a contest that centers around cultural heritage, mobilizing people from around the world to collect visual information about their own communities – information which is made freely available via Creative Commons. Wikimedia, the group behind Wikipedia and many other projects, “is a global movement whose mission is to bring free educational content to the world.”
So, where do these monuments and this photo contest fits into the Wikimedia idea? WikiLovesMonuments says:
“Cultural heritage is an important part of the knowledge Wikipedia collects and disseminates… An image is worth a thousand words, in every language at once and local enthusiasts can (re)discover the cultural, historical, or scientific significance of their neighbourhood.”
WikiLovesMonuments allows the public to recognize and remember that these are their own objects. Though the monuments might be ancient and perhaps irrelevant to everyday life for some, in the process of photographing and posting online, each person has the ability to denote that ‘this is something important in my community – it represents my community enough for me to photograph it.’
The major rule of the contest – which ends in prizes – is that in order to enter, the monument you choose to photograph must be officially recognized and listed by a cultural body, ie UNESCO. This rule in practice turns out to be surprisingly fluid. Rather than a basic photo of a building, “monument” is interpreted over and over again in creative and unusual ways. A photograph of a state park, listed on a register of national monuments, becomes a portrait of a wild bird. A church is represented by it’s reliquary, and a nation’s cuisine is represented by a bowl of bamboo shoots. These, too, are monuments.
In this way, each contributor can engage with the idea of “what is a monument” – he or she decides what element of this ‘monument’ best represents it as a whole. This gives the contributor a chance to show – even anonymously – their opinion of meaningful cultural heritage.
Some of these monuments photographed this year (it’s the fourth year of the contest) are relatively well known: the Eiffel tower, the Great Wall, etc… but the goal of the project is also to document those places which are unknown.
And then, there are some monuments that are just unexpected…
How it works
After signing up to participate, and taking a photograph, you can upload it directly to Wikimedia Commons via your phone (if you have an Android phone), or you can upload it from a computer. At the end of the month, winners will be decided at national and international levels (plus a few special contests. This year, there are 40 countries participating in this global collection).
You can find photos by country on the wikimedia site, and follow them on twitter @wikimonuments.
Author's correction: Not all countries posting photos in WikiLovesMonuments are eligible for the competition, i.e. Australia. Countries which may participate in competition are listed here.