Designer, grad student, and VR specialist Ziv Schneider has created a digital home for works both destroyed by war and stolen through famous heists.
As was made abundantly clear by recent video footage of the destruction of the Mosul Museum’s priceless artifact collection, ISIS’s mission of terror extends to the Middle East’s cultural legacy as well. Pulverizing centuries old treasures down to dust, this systematic annihilation has robbed future generations of both their heritage, and a chance to experience its greatest creations. As UNESCO and culturally invaluable sites across the world succumb to religious fanatics, from the Sufi saints statues of Mali to the (now bulldozed) 13th century city of Nimrud, preserving the memory of these lost, stolen, or destroyed works becomes all the more important. The Museum of Stolen Art, created by Ziv Schneider, a grad student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, seeks to archive some of these lost works via a virtual museum exclusively dedicated to pieces currently MIA. Two of the first scheduled exhibits include works lost in the looting of Afghanistan and Iraq, which resonate strongly with Schneider, having grown up in nearby Israel. “What happened in Iraq—it was political instability that led to it,” Schneider recently explained to the Daily Dot “and a lot of the items were looted by Iraqis during the invasion [of 2003] because circumstances allowed for it. The condition of the archaeological items really deteriorated after Saddam Hussein lost power.” In Iraq these pieces were lost for good, while some in Afghanistan wound up back home. “A lot of it was looted by soldiers, and a lot of the items were returned. People were really surprised to see these pieces. They don’t relate them to Afghanistan. There’s a lot of intersection of cultures there, a lot of important historical pieces.”
The third exhibit to launch the museum “celebrates” some of art history’s most infamous stolen paintings, including Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert, and many of the works lifted during a 1990 spree at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. While taking a digital stroll through the museum, patrons can access an audio guide to learn more about the history of the pieces. As Schneider’s website states “The goals of the museum are to give visibility to art that is otherwise impossible to see on a museum wall, and also to familiarize the public with stolen items in order to assist in the their recovery.” Schneider hopes that this tool will eventually be used as a supplementary database for organizations like the FBI and Interpol in fighting art crime. The images on her site are often culled from their vast web archives, and, as the digital docent at the Museum says on the site, “If you see any of these works in real life, please report it to the International Police.”
For art history buffs looking to get directly involved in the efforts to archive destroyed works, Project Mosul is currently looking for volunteers to help virtually restore the Mosul Museum through photo research, digital organization, and artefect identification. You can contact them here.