are the heirs of 3000 years of Civilization."
by artist, Mark Vallen - © December 2003
1954 Spanish artist Josep Renau created the photomontage
shown at right titled Surprise Party in the Metropolitan
Museum. Credited with having helped developed the artform
of photomontage in the 1930's, Renau intended his piece
to be a scathing critique of capitalist societies consumed
by easy distraction and self-absorption.
the political clarity of Renau's artwork rings especially
true in light of the sacking of the Baghdad National Art
Museum and other cultural institutions directly after the
US invasion and occupation of Iraq in April 2003.
occupation troops quickly moved to secure Iraq's Ministry
of Oil building in downtown Baghdad, but left the country's
museums unguarded. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
commenting on the whirlwind of looting that resulted in
the near total destruction of Iraq's irreplaceable art
treasures, said, "Stuff happens."
the historical importance of the Cradle of Civilization
and the cultural significance of its ancient Babylonian,
Akkadian, Sumerian and Assyrian Kingdoms, is as
meaningless to today's military occupiers as it was to
the Mongol chieftain Hulegu (Grandson of Genghis Khan),
who sacked Baghdad in 1260.
should come as no surprise that military leaders have
such little regard for art treasures, but what about
the rest of us? While priceless artifacts from the
beginning of civilization were being destroyed or stolen,
pioneering works in the history of art, masterworks from
the world's first great civilizations, we seemed more
interested in the next Hollywood blockbuster. Of the over
14,000 priceless objects looted during the chaos of the
US invasion, less than 4,000 have been recovered at the
time of this writing. While organized art thieves succeeded
in smuggling out of the country a great deal of the nation's
artistic treasures, a few discarded artifacts are today
slowly being recovered... like the 4,300 year old Mesopotamian
statue recently found in a Baghdad cesspool.
head of Akkadian King, four millennia old.
clay tablets display the world's first written language.
Renau's photomontage, great art treasures of the Western
world are a mere backdrop for a frenetic rock 'n roll
dance party. The legions of privileged white
middle-class youth enjoying themselves in wild abandon
are oblivious to their historic surroundings. The past
has no meaning or resonance for them, and certainly no
relevance to their goal of immediate satisfaction. The
crowd is self-contained in a bubble of hedonism, politically
disarmed by their apathy and ignorance.
makes his point clear by inserting a written message in
the form of a sign held up by one of the throng, We
are the heirs of 3000 years of civilization.
have become the inane mob in Renau's prophetic image,
only thrust into the afflicted present. Historical amnesia
has placed us on the doorstep of the new dark ages, with
year zero beginning as a new-sprung reality show called
Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL). Thousands
of cuneiform clay tablets displaying the world's first
written language have been reduced to dust. The world's
most precious artifacts from the dawn of civilization
have been looted and carted off to be sold on the black
market. One of the greatest tragedies of the century has
been our indifference to this tremendous loss. History
will record that we stood transfixed by the easy distractions
of celebrities, pop music, movies, and sports while our
collective cultural heritage was plundered.
wooden harp with gold inlay.