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Art made from Isis bullet hole damage goes on show for first joint UK project between Iraq and Kurdistan

Piers Secunda’s exhibition on destroyed ancient Assyrian objects is part of ongoing attempts to bring peace to a divided region

Piers Secunda's ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Head) (2015) Courtesy of the artist

Works of art created using casts of Isis bullet holes and power tool damage from destroyed sites in Iraq have gone on show at the Iraqi ambassador’s residence in London. Cultural Destruction Paintings (until October) by the British artist Piers Secunda, shows reliefs made of industrial paint that document the cultural sites ravaged by the Islamic extremist group as they fought in Iraq. The exhibition is the first artistic collaboration between the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) representation in London and the Iraqi embassy. The show is an effort towards peaceful relations between the two sides, which only last year were engaged in armed confrontations over contested areas in northern Iraq.

The six pieces in the show are made from reproductions of Assyrian reliefs similar to the ones that have been damaged by Isis fighters. Most of the works include an intact version of the sculpture beside further versions that Secunda has applied the moulds of power tool marks and bullet holes to, making them appear increasingly damaged.

“Part of the intention in making the works for this exhibition was to document, in some small way, the unprecedented swathe of cultural destruction carried out by Isis in the Middle East,” Secunda says.

In some of the works, the superimposed damage is more dramatic than others. The diptych Nisroch (2018) depicts the eagle-headed Assyrian god in the first intact panel, while only the bottom right and left corners are still visible in the damaged second panel. In the work Fragment (2018), none of the original carving remains and there is no intact panel to show its un-damaged state. “The effect is quite dramatic and for some of the attendees at the exhibition opening it was frustrating,” Secunda says.

Piers Secunda's Fragment (2018) Courtesy of the artist

Secunda travelled to Iraq in 2015 to make the casts that appear in his work. He was taken, under the protection of the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military), to two newly-liberated front line villages near Kirkuk to create moulds of Isis bullet holes. Secunda then went to the Mosul Museum in March this year, with the help of Iraq’s culture minister Fryad Rwandzi and the Iraqi Army, to capture the pneumatic drill marks left on the human-headed winged bull Lamassu sculptures that were memorably destroyed by Isis in February 2015. Secunda’s reliefs are made from a combination of the two groups of moulds.

“This exhibition by Piers Secunda is raising awareness of this cultural genocide. It is our responsibility to show the damages and the destruction to [what is] not only Iraq’s own heritage, but the world’s,” says H.E. Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the United Kingdom. “The KRG is always keen to maintain normal and fair relations with the Iraqi embassies abroad and we use all opportunities [including this exhibition] to pave the ground for that,” he adds.

Secunda’s next show Isis Bullet Hole Paintings (7 September – 27 October) will open at Long-Sharp Gallery in Indianapolis and 10% of any sales will go to Kind Aid, a charity for orphans in the Kurdish region.

Cultural Destruction Paintings at the Iraqi Ambassador’s residence in London is open until October, by appointment only.