In February 2015, ISIS released a propaganda video detailing the destruction of ancient artifacts housed at the Mosul Museum in Baghdad, Iraq. Although the majority of these objects were later revealed to be plaster copies, about a third of the museum’s collection—including a 3,000-year-old lion statue originally installed in the Assyrian city of Nimrud’s Temple of Ishtar—was still destroyed.
Now, Jill Lawless reports for the Associated Press, a 3-D printed replica of the lost lion is on view at London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM). It’s one of the main attractions in a three-part exhibition titled Culture Under Attack. As Lawless writes, the show examines “how war devastates societies’ cultural fabric,” as well as the “ingenious and often heroic steps” taken to preserve cultural heritage.
“The destruction of culture is sort of an accepted sideline to war,” Imperial War Museum curator Paris Agar tells the AP. “One of the main reasons for destroying culture is to send a message: We have victory over you. We have power over you. It’s because culture means so much to us; if we didn’t care it wouldn’t be a tool.”
The sculpture was digitally modeled using data from photographs taken by tourists prior to ISIS’ occupation, and 3-D printed by Google Arts and Culture in conjunction with Rekrei, a crowdsourcing project that aims to “digitally preserve the memory of … destroyed cultural treasures.” Per BBC News, the replica represents the first object or artwork created by Google’s digital culture team specifically for a museum exhibition.
Culture Under Attack features three sub-exhibitions: What Remains, a collection of more than 50 photographs, oral histories, objects and artworks charting 100 years of what the Guardian’s Caroline Davies describes as “culturecide,” or the weaponization of cultural property in conflict; Art in Exile, an exploration of how British museums evacuated and protected their holdings during World War II; and Rebel Sounds, an immersive audio experience that shows how groups from the Undertones—a rock band formed in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1975—to the Frankfurt Hot Club—a jazz group made up of young German musicians who played in defiance of the Nazi Party—used music to “resist, revel and speak out” during times of war and oppression.
The Lion of Mosul replica is on view in the first of these smaller shows, standing alongside such items as a charred book recovered from the ruins of a Belgian library razed by German forces in 1914, Nazi lists of stolen artworks, and video footage of the Taliban blowing up a pair of monumental 6th-century statues known as the Bamiyan Buddhas.
What Remains is split into two sections dubbed “Targeting” and “Saving.” The former examines targeted destruction in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, highlighting such incidents as Nazi diplomat Gustav Braun von Stumm’s pledge to “go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide” (a popular travel guide to the country’s historic towns) and the brutal Allied bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima.
The latter, meanwhile, explores how people work to salvage material culture—a directive exemplified by the resurrected Lion of Mosul.