Iranian Artist Replicates Destroyed Antiquities

Since the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, ISIS, the news has been filled with the gruesome actions of the ISIS terrorists. But aside from their crimes against humanity, ISIS has also been committing crimes against the cultural heritage of humankind. An Iranian artist is trying to replace what has been lost in her own way.

Moreshin Allahyari grew up in Iran and has since relocated to San Francisco. After studying Media and Social Sciences at the University of Tehran, she moved to the United States in 2007 to complete a Master’s degree.

Now, she does most of her work with a 3D-Printer. One might think that that relieves the artists of actually having to make art but it is merely a development in the modern art world. According to Allahyari, many artists in San Francisco use this medium.

Like many people around the globe, Allahyari was shocked when the news broke that ISIS was systematically destroying museums, antiquities, and art work in Syria and Iraq. She particularly remembers a video that showed how ISIS was destroying the museum in Mosul Iraq. Apart from the obvious – the terrorists destroying artefacts that represent thousands of years of human history – she was shocked by how they mocked the culture and the past.

So she made a plan. She decided to use modern technology – probably much to the chagrin of the terrorists, who abhor everything modern – to replicate and archive the lost art. This was not her first foray into the world of 3D-printing. In 2012 she already had a project, called “Dark matter,” in which she 3D-printed objects that the religious regime in Iran forbids. She began with satellite dishes and Simpson figures and later expanded the project to other authoritarian regimes like North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Her ISIS-themed project proved more difficult. While all the objects the replicated for “Dark matter” were readily available, she now tried to print objects that had been destroyed. In order to get the information she needed, she had to contact experts around the world. She spoke to historians, archaeologists, and museums everywhere, collected documents, texts, books and pictures of the destroyed artefacts. A task that did not prove easy.

For example, the museum of Mosul never had a catalog of its artefacts and many other sites also did not have a lot of information on the antiquities. But people came through and she managed to collect a lot of information nonetheless. An Iraqi expert sent her pictures that he had taken of the objects, since visiting Iraq and Syria was  – for obvious reasons – too dangerous for her and also would not have yielded many results, since the art works had already been destroyed.

With the help of the documents and the pictures, she could feed the information into a software that then helped her build a 360 degree model of the lost art. Her printer then prints the objects. In her case, she uses artificial resin to build the objects and they are around 20 to 30 cm tall.

Her figures are transparent and due to the material very hard to destroy, unlike their original counterparts. She made the decision to print translucent figures for a simple reason. Each figure contains a memory card that is sealed and can only be opened with a sharp object. On the memory card she included all the information that she had collected about the original, building a kind of time capsule. It was important to her that the figures do not have to be destroyed in order to reach the memory card. Too much destruction had already taken place.

Her favourite object is King Uthal. Not only, because many of the experts she contacted revered that statue particularly. But because she herself likes his stance. She has since moved on to female statues, since feminism is important to her. She will likely stick to statues before moving on to architectural designs. And though it is a bitter pill to swallow that she needs to wait for more destruction to get more inspiration, she is doing her work to keep the memory alive.