Recent artefacts that appeared in the Mustard Centre have been criticised following their arrival last Friday. This followed claims that some of the artefacts can be linked back to military activities by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
The main sponsor of the exhibit is Lady Malcone, a UEA alumnus and one of the university’s greatest contributors to the art museum. An Art History graduate in 2011, she currently rents her private jet for a living. The exhibit largely focuses on the early Christian period, particularly in areas that formed the Assyrian Empire. Today, it is home to northern Iraq and Syria. Dominating large swathes of land between 900-600 BC, Assyria was one of the first empires known to historians.
Many of Lady Malcone’s latest artefacts have been an issue of contention among the student body. According to the Student Union, they have received complaints about the origins of several items present at the show. A student, who has not been identified, claimed that some of the mosaics on show originated from Apamea. Formerly an ancient Roman city, it has been destroyed by looters, including the Islamic State.
The most controversial item among the exhibit is a vase that is rumoured to have come from the heavily-plundered city of Dura-Europos. It’s claim to fame is having one of the oldest Christian churches ever discovered, dating back to 250. Estimates suggest that almost 4,000 looting pits exist at the site and it is unknown what items have been taken from the city. Parts of the church itself were preserved by archaeologists and are still on show at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Students are not the only ones who find the exhibition problematic. Lana Murray, an Art History teacher, stated that ‘it goes against our university values’ to allow stolen items in the Mustard Centre and added that it was ‘hugely irresponsible for Lady Malcone to overlook’ the potential links to the Islamic State.
Lady Malcone has not publicly responded to the criticism and could not be reached for comment.
The attacks by the Islamic State first came to light in 2014, resulting in the destruction and plundering of sites of historical and archaeological significance. In March 2015, IS was condemned by UNECSO for bulldozing Nimrud, an Assyrian capital city. Palmyra, a tourist attraction and one of the best-preserved ancient cities, was also attacked and looted.
These acts are reportedly part of an ongoing propaganda campaign and attacks against other religions and Muslim sects, although other structures, such as the Monumental Arc in Palmyra, have been destroyed with no apparent religious motivation. Looted artefacts have been put on the international black market to help the Islamic State fund their military operations. It is estimated that they make anywhere between 150-200 million dollars annually due to illegally selling artefacts.
(Editors note: this piece was written by Imogen Barton.)