by Jess Howard

Since Daesh first made itself known at the turn of the 21st century, a significant number of religious and historical buildings, artefacts and objects of cultural significance have been destroyed, in what the Secretary-General of The United Nations Ban Ki-moon once described as ‘a war crime’. In response to this, a series of art works have been created to replicate the objects that have been destroyed since Daesh first established itself, which leads us to consider the ways in which artistic reconstruction benefits culture and society.

By recreating these objects […] Allahyari is allowing these cultural memories to remain, even if they are not in their original form

Iranian multi media artist Morehshin Allahyari has begun creating a series of works entitled Material Speculation: ISIS, producing digital fabrications and 3D printings of a number of artefacts from the Roman period city of Hatra, and Assyrian artefacts from Nineven, that have been lost. A large portion of Allahyari’s work is centred around cultural and societal commentary, and the project has been created as a means of preserving and commemorating the memory of historical and religion events and artefacts.


Material Speculation: ISIS, a series of works by Morehshin Allahyari

Whilst in more recent years historians and archeologists have been able to identify traditions and events pertaining to historical societies through literature, the further back we go the less written evidence we have access to. We are able to learn just as much about a time period from examining and considering their relics, artefacts and objects of archeological significance, as we are through reading diaries and texts, and it is vital that we continue to learn about these historical groups. By recreating these objects, and making them available online for the general public to download, Allahyari is allowing these cultural memories to remain, even if they are not in their original form.

However, knowledge and discovery are not the only reasons to pursue artistic reconstruction, as can be seen through the work of students at The New York Academy of Arts. Student took part in a 5 day forensic sculpture workshop, creating busts of individuals that have been murdered yet whom police have been unable to identify, often referred to as John or Jane Doe for male and female respectively, or Doe for gender neutral individuals.

By creating these artworks, artists are ensuring that history and civilians are not forgotten

In 2015, a number of student’s partnered with the New York City Chief Medical Examiner to recreate 11 physically accurate busts, based on the skulls of victims of homicide. As well as detailed forensic information, the students were also given access to any known biographical information, such as the age, height, race and hair type of the victim, and the physical point of the assault. Displayed in the University’s windows, director of physical anthropology at the office of the city medical examiner Bradley J. Adams, released a press release describing the class as “a last-ditch effort to identify unknown homicide victims, after methods such as fingerprinting, dental records and DNA testing failed to yield results”.

From the first batch of skulls created by the class, a positive DNA match has been identified after a civilian identified the bust as a member of their family. Since then, an additional 15 busts have been created, and images of the sculptures have been subsequently added to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System online database, which the New York City Police Department have access to.

Whilst developments in technology may be considered to have little relevance to objects of such cultural, historical or social significance, and expensive equipment such as 3D printers may be considered frivolous, evidence such as this demonstrates how art and sculpture can be used to connect us with the past in a scientifically significant way. By creating these artworks, artists are ensuring that history and civilians are not forgotten, and that memories of these people and events continue to be preserved in spite of original objects being lost or destroyed.

Featured Image: King Uthal part of the Material Speculation:Isis works by Moreshin Allahyari

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