I troop off to the British Museum shows like I’m dutifully returning to my own mecca. With a world class permanent collection, and the pull of large scale, incredible international shows, how can they get it wrong?
When the exhibitions feel as if the spoon wont stop feeding, and my own imagination ends up being shrouded in an eruption of fake peeling paint and audio effects, the irony of overkill whilst stooping over a human carcass incarcerated doesn’t go amiss.*
*I am referring to the Pompeii show.
However, the Babylon exhibition was a feat of genius…
As you walked among the artifacts, a contemporary mind can recognise the tools and systems that we have built upon and benefited from, throughout most of the worlds cultures, nations and communities. Their legacy is our everyday, from the calendars we keep, the time we run our lives by, to the science and mathematics that all modern methods of understanding stem from. This was delicately stipulated in a practical and exploratory manner that expressed their ingenuity and creativity. It was a reminder that the modern mind may not have changed much over the centuries, we have just had the ability to learn and build upon their work, en masse, in order to further advance our civilizations. For better, or for worse.
The most poignant reflection of this came at the end of the exhibition, when the viewer was confronted with the recent footage of the Babylonian ruins – the epicenter for this outburst of knowledge that we take for granted today, being used as target practice by American soldiers. This seemed to symbolise the desperate ignorance that is spurred on by war. I don’t think Iraq’s many archaeological sites benefited from being converted into a temporary firing range. The ‘us and them’ culture bred in these environments seems to run in the veins of humanity, as such events seem to occur throughout history. The perpetrators should have been given an invitation to the British Museum’s private view. Areas of the World Heritage site are 2,600-year-old, it would be the equivalent of 2000 soldiers using Stone Henge in the UK.
This week when I saw the footage from the ISIS attack on the archaeological sites in Iraq’s ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, I was reminded of the Babylon show. It also reminded me of the feeling upon leaving the British Museum, that the riches and the privilege of experiencing the artifacts within the museum, is the spawn of the plunder and destruction of countries and ancient cultures. Maybe one day in the future, our world heritage sites will all be reconstructed using 3D printing and the mystery and magic of our past will be swallowed up by politics.