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Thanks to artist Morehshin Allahyari, the invaluable sculptures destroyed by Islamic State militants will not be wiped out from history. The technology, which was dubbed as a ‘time capsule’ for all sculptures lost, Allahyari is conducting a massive rebellion against the destroying forces by making the sculpture models available for 3D printing.


Destroying World History


Nearly two thousand and five hundred years ago, Iraq and Iran were part of the same Persian Empire; as a result the two countries have a lot of history in common. Extremists from Islamic State wreaked havoc in ancient cities and museums destroying innumerable precious relics. Some of these artifacts dated back to even the Persian and Roman empires, hence; the destruction of these ancient sculptures were undoubtedly a great loss for the history of human kind. Mosul, a city in northern Iraq saw the most destruction as militants destroyed antiques, ancient art and sculptures in the Mosul Museum. In early 2015, the entire rampage went viral in a video in which militants were seen smashing the sculptures with sledgehammers. Fortunately, many of the statues were copies, but some were not. Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are becoming targets for destruction in Syria too. Nimrud, the Assyrian city of ancient times was also destroyed with explosives and bulldozers around the same time. The city was constructed during 1250 B.C. and also contained invaluable historic relics.

According to the UN, the ISIS destruction of these ancient sites of historic culture and heritage are war crimes. These militants have primarily targeted ancient cities that are replete with relics from pre-Islamic idolatrous religions and other Abrahamic faiths. The group of extremists is fiercely determined to destroy anything and everything that differs from their religious views, hence, the extreme destruction of cultural heritage.

3D Printing Brings Hope


In the face of such horrible destruction of artifacts, activists, historians, archeologists and artists are trying to do their part in saving the history of the region. Morehshin Allahyari however, brings a different dimension of this artistic rebellion for the world to witness. In San Francisco, she is fighting the destruction of artifacts from the perspective of an artist. This Iranian-born activist and artist moved to the US in 2007 after completing her studies at the University of Tehran where she majored in Social and Media Studies. Previously, one of her projects titled ‘Dark Matter’ was a humorous take on 3D printed objects forbidden in Iran. It is by the dint of her passion for technology in portraying cultural, political and social issues that she has taken up the challenge of replacing the sculptures with the help of 3D printing technology. The artist is recreating the original sculptures and relics that were destroyed by ISIS at the Mosul Museum. Her project is titled ‘Material Speculation: ISIS’.

Allahyari believes though that what has been lost is lost and there is no way to physically replace or reconstruct the artifacts destroyed. However, using 3D printing technology to recreate them as accurately as can be is the least that mankind can do for its history. This can be a way to secure the information and valuable knowledge about these sculptures as a means of keeping history alive.

Among her exhibits are recreated original relics from Halta and Assyrian time periods that ISIS particularly pinpointed to destroy. When her project sees completion, there will be 8-10 high quality 3D printed pieces, each ten inches in height. Inside each sculpture, a memory card is seen floating in mineral oil in order to preserve the information about the artifact so that the card can be pulled out without damaging the piece. This will enable people to look up the original item’s data as well as the information about the new 3D printed piece.

The Research


The catalog of Mosul Museum could not be saved which had details about the artifacts in the museum. Hence, there remains no way to find out exactly how many, or what kinds of pieces were lost. The artist had to solely rely on external research and interviews with archaeologists, researchers and historians from the US and the Middle East. Interviewees also included British Museum representatives and university students to determine what kind of pieces were destroyed. One of her creations, a bull statue with wings called a lamassu is particularly famous. While ISIS demolished the original, there is a copy of it situated in Persepolis.

Allahyari was in fact, stunned by the fact that there is little or no information available about the lost artifacts. Initially the artist thought it would be easy to just replicate the designs from photos or the museum catalog, yet the reality turned out different. This project received help from various institutions, for example: a PhD student Christopher Jones from Columbia University, Assistant Professor Pamela Karimi from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a student of Tehran University Negin T. and Wathiq Al-Salihi, a historian. Those who helped with the 3D modeling process are Patrick Delory, Christian Pramuk, Sierra Dorschutz and Shane O’Shea from AutoDesk.

The Process


Usually, like rapid prototyping, sculptures or actual 3D objects are photographed from different angles in order to produce an optimized prototype for the printer. However, Allahyari only had access to some one dimensional, poorly scanned black and white pictures to make her models from. Those too were meager in number, so it was almost impossible to recreate them from these pictures alone. For each piece, about one month was required as the artist prepared each item to be 3D printed by thoroughly analyzing each low quality historical image. Also, each artifact needed a space for memory cards and needed to be modified from original scale. She used the Objet 3D printer that instead of printing in plastic uses resin to print layer by layer. Later, an ultraviolet light helped to harden and clear the final product.


Even though her project involves a lot of historical research and culture preservation, Allahyari considers her project to be more about the art. According to her, this is an art project before anything else. There are many poetic and emotional sides to it all, along with the artist’s own connection to her Middle Eastern roots. Allahyari’s project nonetheless is a clear example of how valuable 3D printing can truly be.



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