Monday, November 10, 2008

Razia Iqbal on the British Museum

The BBC's Arts Correspondent, Razia Iqbal, has written about the British Museum's latest exhibition, Babylon: Myths and Realities, which opens later this week.
And then, what hits you in the final room of the exhibition is the tragedy of what is happening in what is present-day Babylon, southern Iraq. The British Museum does not mince its words. It accuses the coalition troops who are serving there of having caused irreversible damage to what it describes as one of the world's most important archaeological sites.

The extent of this destruction is made public for the first time in the exhibition. After the fall of Saddam, many historic sites were looted by Iraqis, hunting for antiquities; Babylon was spared that fate, only to fall to a worse one, from which the Museum says it will never recover: Occupation by more than 2,000 soldiers.

It was the digging of long trenches for military purposes, levelling areas of the site, driving vehicles around it, establishing a helipad in one of the most famous sites of the ancient world that the Museum regards as scandalous.

The institution has been politically prescient in many of its shows, from the 2005 Persian exhibition to capturing the mood of terracotta diplomacy in its China blockbuster, The First Emperor. This exhibition is contained and detailed, but hits its target very hard.

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