ISIL

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Ryan Woodring at Duplex in Portland

I’ve had a hard time finding a good starting point to talk about Ryan Woodring’s show, Decimate Mesh at Duplex in Portland. Do I first explain the title of the exhibit so that readers will understand the special-effects software that allowed him to create the videos in the exhibition? If I chose that direction, it would seem to me that I’d be burying the lead, so to speak, because all of the art—the videos, the sculptures and the print on the wall—has been made in response to the destruction of artifacts by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in the Syria and Iraq.

The Middle East is a quagmire of domestic and foreign politics and policy; thick and deep with responsible parties. Regardless of efforts to find solutions, there seems to be little chance of change that suits international agendas, largely because each strategy dismisses or fails to comprehend a history of any length more than 100 years prior, let alone a millennium.

Even a timeline of the last 25 years seems to be forgotten. For instance, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, an impressive number of Kuwait’s ancient treasures found their way into the antiquities market via the Iraqi government. After Desert Storm, no-fly zones imposed on Iraq left archeological sites largely unmonitored in the north and south of the country. This not only made those sites vulnerable to looting, but since additional sanctions relegated a great number of Iraqis to abject poverty, it made these sites ripe for the picking. And remember the looting of the Iraqi museums just days after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom? (We had been warned ahead of time that this would likely happen.) How about the aerial bombing of mosques by U.S. jets? These things should still be fresh in our collective memory.

Not to mention bloodshed. It, too, seems to be part and parcel to this ongoing, spreading conflict. Even if ISIL insists there is no financial gain in raiding sites holding antiquities, and the destruction they wage is solely on religious grounds, this past week ISIS murdered the Syrian antiquities scholar Khaled al-Asaad because he refused to tell them where more artifacts were hidden for safekeeping. Yes, despite statements made to the contrary, it may be safe to assume they are financing their campaign with more readily transportable relics; and, just to keep the international aspects of this conflicted region intact, there are similar doubts about the Iraq war not being about money or that a half million Iraqis did not die.

All forms of fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, confuse unidimensional thinking with universal truth, and with this comes convenient justifications for most any atrocity.

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