Morehshin Allahyari inspects the relationships between 3D printing, plastic, oil, technocapitalism and Jihad with her project 'Material Speculation.' (Courtesy: Morehshin Allahyari)
At software company Autodesk at San Francisco's Pier 9, the 3D printers are humming. Here, people print all kinds of things, like biofabrics, prosthetic limbs, toys, jewelry and gadgets.
But resident artist Morehshin Allahyari is using the technology to re-create a stone statue that's over 2,000 years old.
It's a chilly December afternoon, but it's warm inside the 3D printing room. Allahyari stands at the waist-high printer in a black dress, purple tights and combat boots. Her face is framed by her short hair.
The printer's UV light goes back and forth. Each movement delivers a single layer of liquid resin that quickly hardens from the UV rays. A translucent statue begins to take shape.
The statue is a miniature model of a life-size female figure that stood outside of the Mosul Museum in Iraq. This was before ISIS destroyed the statue along with other Hatrene sculptures and Assyrian artifacts using sledgehammers and power tools last February.
In her project Material Speculation, Allahyari is 3D modeling and printing some of those statues and artifacts that ISIS destroyed.
Over the past couple of years ISIS has looted and damaged over 42 historical and archaeological sites, some dating back as early as 7th century BCE. They’ve also burned books in Mosul libraries and destroyed artifacts at the archaeological site at Nimrud. The terrorist group claims these statues and figures promote idolatry. Not to mention, they are also seeking attention from the pieces they destroy and profit from the goods that they loot from these sites.
"[ISIS is] trying to remove this rich history in order to start afresh and also to remove any kind of interethnic interactions," Pamela Karimi, professor of Middle Eastern art at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, says.
Allahyari says her work is about re-establishing that connection to parts of the Middle East that have been separated by conflict.
"I’m originally from Iran. these artifacts are from Iraq. But these are all older, from 2,500 - 3,000 years ago, and this is when history was shared between all these countries," says Allahyari.
Karimi says terrorists have destroyed historical artifacts in many parts of the world. But the destruction of sites in the Middle East is particularly significant.
"So the Middle East is where the world’s first cities emerged and the world’s first governmental entities were first introduced," she says.
Allahyari says there was little information to draw from when she first set out to do her project. Wanting to address this issue for future generations, she turns her own works in tiny time capsules. She's inserted a thumb drive loaded with PDF files, maps and other research relating to the destroyed artifacts inside each one.
"This is basically the way to go in the future: to not only create a nostalgic art work that reminds us what’s happening, but something that provides solutions for how you preserve the memory for future generations," Karimi, a supporter of Allahyari, says.
How It's Done
To make these to-scale statues Allahyari had to find images online and use them as source material to 3D model the artifacts. For most 3D models, people take hundreds of pictures of one item. Allahyari doesn’t have that luxury because the items she is modeling no longer exist, so she uses Flickr.
After creating a 3D model, she runs it through different software programs to fix meshes and errors. Then she does a test print to make sure everything looks good before printing the final model.
The most recent additions to Material Speculation delve deep into ISIS' social and cultural destruction of female forms in life and physically as sculptures.
"There’s this whole thing about violence against women which is part of what’s happening with ISIS," Allahyari says. "But it’s actually not talked about as much as other things."
Allahyari hopes to see her work displayed at the Mosul Museum in someday. The building is still standing but Baghdad, where it resides, is ISIS territory, so no one can go in or out.
Allahyari’s pieces will be featured in the show Archive Fever: Future Imaginings of Things Past at B4BEL4B art gallery in Oakland starting January 16th until the end of February.