Destruction and Creativity: ISIS, Artefacts and Art in the Middle East

Morehshin Allahyari, Material Speculation: ISIS (2015-ongoing), Lamassu.
Morehshin Allahyari, Material Speculation: ISIS (2015-ongoing), Lamassu.

Widespread outrage. National and international mourning. History redefined. These are the terms used to describe the destruction caused by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) who, since bursting into the international limelight by capturing Mosul in June 2014, have made acts of iconoclasm – the purposeful destruction and defacement of art and artefacts – key to their strategy of inducing fear, exerting power, and garnering support. The Temple of Baalshamin and the funeral towers in Palmyra, which both date back almost 2,000 years, are the latest targets in ISIS’s increasingly widespread and rapidly growing attack on history that now includes ancient sites in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo and Palmyra in Syria. These acts are constantly discussed in terms of Islamic fundamentalism and the ultimate loss and waste of human history – but is there more to iconoclasm than these reductionist portrayals?

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