10 Sep

September 10, 2015

I could not help but be struck by the contrast. Just a few weeks ago we here at WVU celebrated the opening of the Art Museum—an accomplishment to be proud of with all the wonderful opportunities it offers to both campus and community. It represents free access to a beautiful new building that presents art from a variety of time periods, media, artists and cultures. The collection is international in scope and encourages free expression and creativity, inviting diverse perspectives and cross-disciplinary approaches to art.

At the same time we’re celebrating, the centuries-old artistic heritage of cultures is being threatened daily with destruction in many parts of the world.

The recent murder of a well-respected archeologist, Khaled Asaad, 82, in Palmyra, Syria, by Islamic State militants, was heartbreaking and shocking in its brutality. Despite the risks, Mr. Asaad chose to stay in the city in an attempt to protect the ancient ruins which he had worked for so many years to preserve. Sadly, the temple there was destroyed.

The destruction of cultural heritage, like the Buddha statues dynamited earlier in Afghanistan by the Taliban, becomes a blunt weapon of oppression, used to deny a people’s past achievements and to undermine a sense of pride and historical continuity. That artistic and cultural treasures are seen as threatening is actually a testament to the power of art to defy extremist ideology. Art speaks across generations to the present day, bearing witness to the past and offering possibilities for the future. Art has the capacity to communicate across time and space, to challenge our concepts and transform conventional thinking,

The ongoing conflict not only affects the people of Syria and their cultural heritage—it is our
collective heritage that is at risk. The work of the amazing “Monuments Men” during World War II continues today, led by museum professionals like the Smithsonian’s Corine Wegener who also served in the military. She will be speaking September 17 at 7 p.m. in the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre at the Creative Arts Center as part of the Dan and Betsy Brown Lecture Series.

As an Army officer in Iraq with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, with Arts, Monuments and Archives, Corine Wegener was instrumental in helping to recover and preserve the collections of the Iraq National Museum after the looting occurred during the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Her presentation will focus on this experience and efforts by the Smithsonian and other organizations to save cultural heritage around the world.

It’s an important subject that deserves our attention.