Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Daesh & Switch – iconoclastic commodities as common capitalist theft

By Annieli

                    Artwork in Iraq gets destroyed by Daesh/ISIS-ISIL (Video)

Polytheistic idolatry is the only thing that gets destroyed, says Daesh, which somehow rationalizes the destruction of historical antiquities, as though there can only be one history, apparently a Sunni and/or Ba’athist one. Only statues that are deemed idolatrous would get destroyed or apparently as originals resold with copies destroyed for social media documentation. But what counts as idolatrous in a modern commodity economy.

Daesh is only controlling the mythology reproduced by the media in order to further not the goals of actual religious beliefs, as they are simply looters maximizing accumulatable wealth. One can say that they are even projecting a pre-modern accumulation of dominance and subjugation returning West Asia and North Africa to some pre-capitalist mode of production. Of course the ideological contradictions will flourish as Daesh elites will keep their modern networked social media and slick magazines as well as their modern weapons in an attempt to reduce all other variants of Islam to their hegemony. Daesh are not the Sentinelese or the Auvergnats – they are common crooks, the lowest form of banditry tarted up when they refer to their genocidal barbarism as a “management of savagery“.

ISIS’ efforts to erase pre-Islamic pictorial art successfully communicates their brand image. What ISIS fails to mention is that they are destroying fakes. Blouin Art Info reports that upon the release of the Mosul Museum video, experts determined that “most, if not all’ of the statuary on view were plaster fakes. The officials at the Mosul Museum had previously transported the originals to the Baghdad Museum. The New York Times reported that many of these sculptures were replicas of ancient objects and a portion of the sculptures on display were reconstructed from fragments which included original shards of ancient sculptures.

Fox News’ misreading is that this is something more immoral than the actual activity of the market in art forgery, made complicit often in human history by an entire discipline of art history and archaeology so that Fox’s headline “How ISIS created a terrorist art market“, is simply that they are following practices of pillaging going back even before the period to which Daesh wishes to return if only symbolically.

Of course the killing of suspected homosexuals will deprive Daesh of many of the population from which the making of such artwork come. These are the premodern warlord-despots of an imagination-free fundamentalist world of gender, class, and ethnic subjugation. They predictably lack the civility of the Greeks upon losing their (Elgin) Marbles.

Footage released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed the ruins of Syria’s Palmyra untouched as the militant group claimed it only destroy statues which it deems polytheistic, the Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Palmyra is home to a massive Roman theatre where ISIS reportedly executed 20 foreign fighters earlier this week who had been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

ISIS militants have reportedly executed at least 400 people in Palmyra since capturing the ancient Syrian city, Syrian state media said earlier this week.

ISIS captured Palmyra – and Iraq’s Ramadi – earlier this month despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes.

A YouTube account believed to be affiliated with ISIS posted a video on May 26 showing parts of the city’s ancient ruins and colonnades. It was not clear when the video was shot.

An activist with an anti-regime group in Palmyra said the ruins have not been damaged adding that ISIS said they would only destroy statues they deem idolatrous.

“They haven’t been damaged and members of the organization [ISIS] told residents that they will not damage the city’s antiquities, but will destroy the idols,” the activist with the anti-regime Local Coordination Committee for Tadmur, was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

“Perhaps it’s because the Palmyra antiquities are mostly columns and large buildings and not statues of people, which they consider idols that must be destroyed, and they have no problem with the other antiquities.”

The ideologically-driven destruction of priceless Iraqi artifacts by Islamic State may be a ruse that actually hides a much more cynical operation, in which fakes are smashed to pieces while real treasures are smuggled out of the country and sold on the black market to fund the terrorist army…

Whether worthless or priceless the verdict for destruction is the same. The current terrorist art and antiquities market is dictated by two factors: (1) can an item be transported to a location where a buyer exists for it, and (2) can the artwork be passed off as legitimate once it arrives.  

Market regulation if it occurs at all might come via the US State department’s “red listEmergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk  and the Syrian Heritage Initiative. But because the art market is dominated by both formal and informal exchange methods, corruption of prices and values is inevitable as it has been since artworks have been the commodified booty of conquerors (See the movie The Monuments Men)

Syrian antiquities looted by Islamic State are being smuggled into Britain, with almost 100 items reported to the authorities in the past year, art crime and archaeological experts warn.

In a phenomenon compared to Africa’s “blood diamond” industry, in which precious stones financed wars, stolen antiquities are allegedly being sold in London.

They range from looted gold and silver Byzantine coins to Roman pottery and glass worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But Daesh serves a civilizing purpose even if it’s only a pre-enlightened false consciousness because they reveal the underlying corruption of the art market and if their cynicism serves an anti-capitalist purpose, however feudal and unintentional, so be it. Despite their pathology, “imagination independent of mythology” remains, and the failed market, like the failed state endures.

There is no doubt that the video was compelling, however when examining the group’s decision to destroy fake and priceless art objects a more pragmatic financial motivation is revealed. The pattern that emerges in this episode of cultural genocide is that ISIS is destroying only the art that is deemed to be unsaleable in the international art market. Both plaster cast fakes of ancient statues and priceless monumental sculptures cannot be sold or transported in the current international antiquity market. The reproduction sculptures do not have an inherent value as they are replicas and the irreplaceable winged bulls at the Nergal Gate are both too well known and too difficult to transport for them to sell in the art market today….

As an industry gallerists must embrace internal and external regulations that establish standards for pre-purchase due diligence and end the era of sales dictated by the mantra “legitimate enough”. There are many miles of red tape, local governmental apathy, and civil litigation which lie between art market regulation and current appropriate art market practices. Until that time we rely on the efforts of the educated collector and the dedicated scholar to raise awareness about the dislocation and destruction of Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage through the international terrorist art market. All the while dreading the next propaganda atrocity released by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

3. Production not only provides the material to satisfy a need, but it also provides the need for the material. When consumption emerges from its original primitive crudeness and immediacy – and its remaining in that state would be due to the fact that production was still primitively crude – then it is itself as a desire brought about by the object. The need felt for the object is induced by the perception of the object. An objet d’art creates a public that has artistic taste and is able to enjoy beauty – and the same can be said of any other product. Production accordingly produces not only an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object….

Let us take, for example, the relation of Greek art, and that of Shakespeare, to the present time. We know that Greek mythology is not only the arsenal of Greek art, but also its basis. Is the conception of nature and of social relations which underlies Greek imagination and therefore Greek (art) possible when there are self-acting mules, railways, locomotives and electric telegraphs? What is a Vulcan compared with Roberts and Co., Jupiter compared with the lightning conductor, and Hermes compared with the Credit Mobilier? All mythology subdues, controls and fashions the forces of nature in the imagination and through imagination; it disappears therefore when real control over these forces is established. What becomes of Fama side by side with Printing House Square? Greek art presupposes Greek mythology, in other words that natural and social phenomena are already assimilated in an unintentionally artistic manner by the imagination of the people. This is the material of Greek art, not just any mythology, i.e., not every unconsciously artistic assimilation of nature (here the term comprises all physical phenomena, including society); Egyptian mythology could never become the basis of or give rise to Greek art. But at any rate (it presupposes) a mythology; on no account however a social development which precludes a mythological attitude towards nature, i.e., any attitude to nature which might give rise to myth; a society therefore demanding from the artist an imagination independent of mythology.…