Defacing Ancient Artifacts

Courtney Friday

Today my blog is going to relate archaeology in general to my IAH 209 class that I’m also taking this semester. My IAH is “Art, the Visible, and Culture” so basically we’re talking about art, what it is, how museums came about, and artists after World War II. These two topics may not seem like they would go together very well but in IAH this past Monday we discussed artist who use ancient artifacts as pieces of art. When I say this I don’t mean that the artist gets ahold of an old piece of cultural history and puts it alongside something they’ve made and call it art, I mean they deface it.

Ai Wei Wei, a prominent modern artist in China, is one of these artists. Ai Wei Wei is a very talented artist and his work really speaks out against the communist rule of China, which I think is pretty cool. But to prove his point, in some pieces, he uses Ming Dynasty vases. In some cases he’ll write over them, or add materials to the ceramic – one example is etching the ‘Coca Cola’ symbol over one large vase. Another is taking three photographs – one holding a vase, one dropping the vase, and one where the vase is broken at his feet.

One other example of defacing ancient artifacts comes from South America. Some ancient cultures in this area mummified their dead, when they are found now-a-days it is with many grave goods including intact fabric. This fabric is usually found around the mummy itself and was obviously important enough to the ancient people to put in these graves. Today people with take this fabric, cut it up, and make small dresses for small homemade dolls. These dolls are then sold to tourists for their ‘authenticity.’

As my IAH teacher was telling us this I was feeling sick. I understand that there will always be looters out there, but how can people not see that these artifacts are part of who we are as a people. I would never purposefully destroy a piece of history and it really baffles me that people do it for art. There are better ways to make a point and better ways to make money than to destroy precious pieces of history, and I hope I live to see the day where this doesn’t happen anymore.