World Between Empires: Conversations on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Syria

This video installation was commissioned for the World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East (March 18–June 23, 2019) exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The video was designed to explain and humanize the issues around destruction of cultural heritage that heavily impact the field of the study of art from the ancient Near East in the areas of present-day Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Three perspectives are presented through interviews with Michał Gawlikowski, who directed field archaeology projects at Palmyra and elsewhere in the Near East, Michel al-Maqdissi, formerly Syria Directorate General of Antiquities, and Zainab Bahrani, Edith Porada Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at Columbia University. All three were connected to the situation both professionally and personally. The installation helped visitors to the exhibition understand the contemporary context of the works of art on view, so as to encourage them to think for themselves about these issues, particularly to consider the relationship between cultural and larger humanitarian concerns. The issues covered include the deliberate destruction of monuments, buildings, religious sites, and museums for propaganda purposes or as a part of ethnic cleansing and the destruction of the historic environment through bombing and warfare.