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Palmyra: ISIS-Wanton Destruction

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On 4 October, 2015 Maamun Abdulkarim, the Syrian Director General of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed that the 2000 year old Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra had been blown up by ISIS forces which control the city and the surrounding area.

He said “ It is now wanton destruction; their acts of vengeance are no longer ideologically driven because they are now blowing up buildings with no religious meaning.”

On 23 August, the temples of Baalshamien − Lord of the Heavens − and Bel, a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS (Daesh in Arabic). This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faith and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

Masmun Abdulkarim called upon the international community to find a way to save Palmyra. His cry comes from the heart as he is the nephew of the long-serving director of the archaeological sites of Palmyra, Dr Khaled al-Assad. On 18 August, Dr al-Assad had his neck cut and his body hung from a traffic light pole. The 83 year-old archaeologist had been held in seclusion (and probably tortured) for three weeks. In the public square of Palmyra an accusation was read out that he was the “director of pagan idols.”

From a distance, it is hard to know what elements within ISIS are responsible for these destructions and what are the motivations. ISIS has attracted fighters from a good number of countries, and it is impossible to know the nationalities within the chains of command. Many Syrians are proud of the vestiges of pre-Islamic civilizations, proof that the area was an important actor and in some ways a rival of Rome. Thus, it is not clear who wants to destroy works of art and cultural heritage. It is impossible to know at this stage if there are possibilities of rational discussion and good-faith negotiations with ISIS authorities to preserve cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.

Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires, and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is an aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. There is also a need to build an awareness and then action on the part of non-governmental organizations, especially those in consultative status with the United Nations as well a cultural institutions. One of the difficulties with appeals to the “international community” is that the international community has no street address, and so appeals are rarely delivered. Too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirming a position from a deeper level of awareness and a legal basis in world law.

The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future – a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the US secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President of the United States, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on 15 April 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “at no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contribution of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and the truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Rheims. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance – re built by human hope.”

The Roerich Peace Pact is the world-law basis for an expression of concern from the governments of what was the Pan-American Union (In 1948 it was reestablished as the Organization of American States). There is also the Hague Convention of May 1954 which was signed by a wider geographic range of States. The Roerich Peace Pact and the Hague Convention are rarely cited by governments. Therefore, leadership must come from non-governmental organizations and the cultural sector to work unitedly and creatively to prevent the wanton destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.

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A Season of Classic Films: European classics screened at cultural heritage venues across Europe

MD Staff

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This summer, European film classics will be screened in some of Europe’s most iconic cultural heritage venues. From tomorrow until the end of September, classic films from across the EU will be screened free of charge in a wide variety of venues in 13 EU countries – from small towns to capital cities – highlighting Europe’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. As part of the wider restoration and digitisation of heritage films, the event series “A Season of Classic Films” is supported by Creative Europe MEDIA programme.

Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said: “European cultural heritage, including our great film classics, should be accessible to everyone. I am pleased to see that the Season of Classic Films makes it possible for everyone interested to be part of an experience shared across Europe, even when attending a local event.”

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, in charge of Digital Economy and Society, added: “Cinema is an essential part of our rich and diverse European culture and is contributing to reinforce bonds between people feeling the same passion and emotion for films. Digital transformation has a decisive potential to strengthen the positive effects of culture, both economically and socially. This is the challenge of our strategy Digital4Culture, to take advantage of this successful connection between digital technologies and culture.”

The classic films season starts tomorrow at the Bologna Film Festival with a presentation of some of the restored films shot using Gaumont’s Chronochrome colour system, one of the earliest colour filming techniques. Among the classic films to be screened throughout the season are some of the best-known titles in world cinema, including Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 blows” (1959), and “Cinema Paradiso” (1988) by Giuseppe Tornatore. The iconic venues hosting the screenings include Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki, Greece, Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, and the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy. The full programme of the season is available here.

Background

Since 1991, the European Commission has been supporting Europe’s audiovisual sector, contributing to is competitiveness and to cultural diversity in Europe, through the MEDIA Programme. One of its most substantial actions is providing financial support to the distribution of European films outside their country of production. Every year, on average over 400 films are made available to audiences in another European country with MEDIA’s help. In May 2018, the Commission proposed to increase the budget of the programme by almost 30% for the next EU long-term budget for 2021-2027.

Within this project, Creative Europe MEDIA will also fund the restoration and digitisation of heritage films in order to ensure that the European culture is passed down to future generations. The event series for this summer was planned as part of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage and reinforced by the Digital4Culture strategy.

“A Season of Classic Films” follows a first initiative, the “European Cinema Night”’, which programmed 50 free screenings of 20 MEDIA-supported films from 3 to 7 December 2018 across the EU and reached almost 7,200 people. The classic films season is expected to attract 15,000 Europeans to the free screenings.

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The Sounds of the Islands: Junkanoo Cultural Festival

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It starts with a deep drumbeat, a baritone sensation that vibrates within your chest. An instant tingle of rhythm journeys up your spine in anticipation of the cadence to come. What follows is nothing short of remarkable; a symphony of unconventional sounds blend together to create the most infectious melodies. This is Junkanoo: a long-standing semi-annual Bahamian tradition birthed from the islands’ early ancestors. Whistles, cowbells and even conch shells are used in this charismatic exhibition of island culture that is now revered around the world.  

History of the Tradition

The earliest rumoured origin stories for the bi-annual festival stems from an African Chief by the name of John Canoe. After being kidnapped and enslaved in the West Indies, John Canoe appealed for the right of his people to partake in their celebratory traditions. The most notable time for the festival to be orchestrated is around the Christmas holiday. The most illustrious part of the festival takes place on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day at the capital island of New Providence. On these days, what was once regarded as an expression of freedom and cultural identity has now transformed into one of the fiercest national competitions. On-lookers crowd the parade routes, cheering on their favourite groups and chanting competitive mantras from the bleachers. The four most famous Junkanoo groups face off at the parades every year in hopes to win prizes and highly coveted national bragging rights.

How to Experience Junkanoo Year Round

Due to the increased popularity of the Bahamian tradition, Junkanoo can now be experienced year-round. The splashy display of costumed dancers and musicians highlight many destination-weddings. Hosts desiring to offer guests an authentic and lively environment can contract a Junkanoo band to create a unique entertainment experience. If you are in attendance at any of the local seasonal festivals, you are sure to close out the day with a Junkanoo rush out.  In recent years, a junior edition of the Junkanoo competition has been added to the winter line up of events. The littlest natives of the island adorn painted faces and tiny drums in hand, skipping and twirling to the rhythmic music.

Whether you are a first-time visitor of the islands or one who calls The Bahamas home, once experienced, the rush of Junkanoo will never leave you.  

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Turning air pollution into art

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Photo by Studio Roosegaarde

Artists are known to take inspiration from the world around them. So it’s no surprise that some have begun shining light on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time—air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution, with 9 out of 10 people breathing toxic air. Air pollution is also known to contribute to climate change and so efforts to tackle it can also help address the climate crisis.

The time to act is now, and artists, like so many others are looking at ways to raise awareness about air pollution, find solutions to reduce it and even use it as a resource.

Pollution Pods

Michael Pinsky got inspired by the differences between the various types of air pollution, when he set out to make Pollution Pods. The project consists of five domes, each imitating air in five different areas of the world: Northern Norway, London, New Delhi, Beijing and São Paulo. As you move through the domes you experience varied levels and sources of air pollution.

“I wanted to have very different sensations from one dome to another,” Pinsky told UN Environment. “It’s not just a question of how strong the pollution is but that they have very different characteristics as well.”

For London, Pinsky recreates the smell of diesel. For Beijing, he mixes the smells of industrial fumes, coal or wood-based heating, and transportation emissions. While New Delhi whiffs of burnt plastic and grass, as citizens still burn a lot of their rubbish.

Luckily, the pollution is only in smell and visibility, without the actual harmful gases. But Pinsky says the experience still isn’t very pleasant. That’s the whole point: air pollution isn’t pleasant.

Pinsky hopes Pollution Pods will lead to a more “radical approach” when dealing with air pollution, particularly with transportation. “It’s not so easy to apply the same advocacy or philosophy towards different cities in the world,” he said. “But in some cases, you could turn the problem around in two years with the right policies.”

Smog-free towers

Daan Roosegaarde was motivated by living in Beijing and witnessing the city’s strive for economic development and citizen wellbeing, when he created the Smog-free Tower. The “largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world”, as Roosegaarde calls it, sucks up polluted air, cleans it and releases it back into the atmosphere.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not a minister, I cannot give 20 billion euros to green energy today. But I’m an engineer and an artist, I can create a clean-air park, like an oasis.’”

The premise is that the smog-free tower sits in a city park, making the air 20–70 per cent cleaner than the rest of the city. It uses positive ionisation technology, which Roosegaarde says is the only way to clean large volumes of ultra-fine particles while using little energy.

Towers are now found around the world in China, Poland, the Netherlands, and soon, South Korea and Mexico. It’s also led to a global campaign, with local partners in each country replicating the towers. Roosegaarde has now introduced the smog-free ring—made of compressed smog particles—and the smog-free bicycle as well.

“This is not utopia. It’s a pro-topia where we, step-by-step, try to improve our cities,” he said. “The grand goal is to have them not needed anymore, but until then, you do what you can to remain healthy.”

Air pollution-based ink

Anirudh Sharma was visiting his family in Mumbai, India, when he began to notice that in the evening his white shirts would gradually turn speckled with something that resembled dirt.

“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma told his alma matter Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. “This is a major health issue.”

When he returned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sharma decided to do something about the air pollution back home. So he set up Graviky Labs—a start-up that has developed a technology to attach to diesel exhaust systems to capture particulate matter. The team at Graviky treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for use by artists around the world.

So far, the start-up has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, or the equivalent of collecting 1.6 trillion litres of outdoor air.

“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma said.

UN Environment

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