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Art Ethics: Protecting And Conserving Art In Conflict Zones Art History Essay

3866 words - 16 pages

The Ethics of Safeguarding and Restoring Art in Zones of Conflict
Given our existence at a time when groups like ISIS are using intentional destruction of heritage as a weapon against cultures around the world, in addition to the value that objects of any heritage hold for mankind as a whole, and keeping in mind the effect of historical conflicts and occupations, now seems an appropriate time to examine the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage and the global responsibility to protect and conserve works in conflict struck zones. This paper will focus on the ethics of protecting and restoring such heritage in the event and aftermath of conflict, and will examine how international law, the global community, and those in the heritage field enforce these ethical principles. I have divided my remarks into four parts: The first section of this paper will introduce two case studies concerning intentional destruction that I will be returning to throughout: firstly of the Buddhas of Bamiyan and secondly of ISIS’ campaign in Syria. The next section will focus on relevant international law; I will outline the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention, and argue that neither this treaty nor other contemporary laws adequately prevent the destruction of cultural heritage. I will conclude this section by discussing the recent prosecution of cultural genocide as a war crime. The third part of my paper will focus on the role of those directly responsible for a conflict, I will argue that US actions during the 2003 invasion of Iraq failed to comply with global ethical standards for protecting cultural heritage. The fourth part of my paper shall examine how to ethically protect, conserve, and preserve works of art in conflict struck zones, in particular works that have been deliberately destroyed. I will examine the use of 3D scanning and printing to document and replicate objects deliberately destroyed by conflict, and address the issues of object integrity and surrogacy. Finally I will return to the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and examine the restoration efforts underway there.

The first case study I will introduce is the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, which proceeded despite significant endeavours to the contrary by the international community, including UNESCO and esteemed Islamic scholars from elsewhere in the Muslim world (1). The Buddhas were two 6th century high relief sculptures (55m and 38m high) that stood in niches carved into cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan (2). They exemplified the distinctive Gandharan school of Buddhist art, which combined classical traditions with South Asian iconography (3). This synthesis of styles reflects Bamiyan Valley’s historical function as a major hub of the Silk Road, allowing for a diverse interaction of cultures such as the “interchange of Indian, Hellenistic, Roman and Sasanian influences” that contributed towards the development of the Gandharan style (2). The statues, along with...

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