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Art Looting and Destruction ~ A Five-Part Series
May 2 @ 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
One event on April 11, 2022 at 6:00 PM
One event on April 25, 2022 at 6:00 PM
One event on May 2, 2022 at 6:00 PM
One event on May 9, 2022 at 6:00 PM
Join us for the five-part series, Art Looting and Destruction: Historical Context, presented by Dr. Valerie Grash, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. The presentations will take place from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the library’s Community Room every Monday evening beginning April 4. No preregistration is necessary to attend, and you can join us for any session (or all five).
Looting and destruction have long been a devastating aspect of cultural strife. The desire to possess plundered objects of intrinsic or artistic value has, in fact, reshaped cultures, as have the actions of those who, acting upon ideological beliefs, undertake iconoclasm as a method of intimidation and force, whether for political or religious purposes. With specific examples, we will examine the issues surrounding image defacement from ancient times to the present, and thoroughly dissect looting as part of both traditional warfare and modern extremism.
Week 1 (April 4): Political Iconoclasm
Image purging, particularly after the downfall of hated repressive regimes, is a seemingly logical reaction—in modern times it occurred after the fall of Communism to images of Lenin and Stalin, as well as with the ousting of Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak in Iraq and Egypt, respectively. In ancient times, Imperial Rome instituted the practice of damnatio memoriae to official “delete” those whose actions allegedly brought dishonor. By more closely examining the New Kingdom Egypt pharaohs Hatshepsut and Akhenaten, the reasons for image defacement (and the methods by which they are carried out) can be understood as often far more complex than they appear on the surface.
Week 2 (April 11): Religious Iconoclasm
The impact of “idolatry” on all three Abrahamic religions has been profound and yet complicated over time. In addition to discussing this issue, we will carefully examine the context for and implications of state-sponsored iconoclasm in the Byzantine empire during the 8th and 9th centuries, during the Protestant Beeldenstorm (Bildersturm, in German) in 16th century northern Europe, and during the French Revolution.
Week 3 – RESCHEDULED FOR April 25: Art Looting and Destruction in Ancient Warfare
After broadly examining the pervasiveness of looting during and in the aftermath of war, we will focus particular attention on the example of ancient Rome’s pillaging of Greek cities, which resulted in a deep ideological divide in Rome between philhellenes who fervently embraced sophisticated Greek aesthetics and Roman conservatives like Cato the Elder who lamented its dominance over traditional Roman art.
Week 4 – RESCHEDULED FOR May 2: Art Looting and Destruction in World War II
Hitler’s condemnation and destruction of modernist “degenerate” art, the looting of European art treasures by the Nazis (particularly Hermann Goering), and the efforts made by groups like the Monuments Men to recover stolen art before the Soviets did—all will be explored. As with all things, these events were complicated, with layers of motives and outcomes which were unexpected and continue to plague us today.
Week 5 – RESCHEDULED FOR May 9: Art Looting and Destruction by Islamist Terror Groups
Again, what we see on the surface—an ideological cultural war on the West—is by no means the complete (or even necessarily accurate) story. We will explore in detail contemporary incidents of art looting and destruction carried out by terror groups, such as in Afghanistan where the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001; in Mali where Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) destroyed ancient Timbuktu mausoleums and looted precious libraries in 2012; and more recent events carried out by Islamic State (IS) in Iraq (at the ancient city of Nimrud) and in Syria (at Palmyra).