Exhibit spotlights war's cultural losses

The looting of the Iraqi National Museum in the early days of the Iraq war pillaged the country's historical and cultural identity.

Five years later, those casualties of war are the subject of a new exhibit at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, titled "Catastrophe!".

The exhibit also details other cultural atrocities in Iraq such as the 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque that ignited a civil war between Sunni and Shiites.

While many of the items stolen from the museum have been recovered, others have entered the ancient artifact black market.

One of the tragedies of this market, according to the exhibit, is that the items lose archaeological context. Without knowing where an item was found, how it was buried and what it was buried with, the artifact's importance and meaning can be lost forever.

An Iraqi statue unearthed by the Oriental Institute in Tell Asman. / Photo by Robert O'Connor


Another feature of the exhibit is a taped conversation between  Donny George, the director of the Iraqi National Museum during the looting, and interviewer Charlie Rose.

Visitors to "Catastrophe!" can also learn about the ancient artifacts black market, where some proceeds are believed to be financing the purchase of weapons for insurgents.

The exhibit, at 58th and University Avenue on the University of Chicago campus, urges visitors to sign a letter urging Senators Richard Durbin and  Barack Obama to vote to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, which includes provisions for the protection of cultural property during armed conflicts.

The exhibit runs from through December 31.

Discuss