Navina Jafa wears many hats. Classical dancer, academician, ‘heritage consultant’, are terms associated with her many roles, but perhaps she is best known for ‘Jafa Heritage Walks’, an exercise in what she describes as ‘academic cultural tourism’. Interestingly, her recently published book, Performing Heritage: Art of Exhibit Walks, brings all these roles together.
Essentially, the book is a discussion on the theory and practice of conducting heritage walks, illustrated through the author’s experiences while leading walking tours, mainly in Delhi. Much of the theory is discussed in the first two chapters where Jafa enlarges on the concept of heritage walks— as ‘cultural productions’ aimed at presenting ‘living exhibits’ to an audience, which is the tour group. According to the author, much of her critical enquiry into the practice of leading walking tours stems from a stint at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington in 2005-06, participating in a training programme in cultural presentation and cultural management. She develops the theme of living exhibits and gives the example of Festivals of India, held in several countries in the 1980s, where Indian arts and performance traditions were showcased through the physical presence of the artists, craftspersons and performers.