THE Iraqi city of Mosul is known to us for all the wrong reasons.

A cultural melting pot in the cradle of civilization, its history stretches back to 401BC.

Astride the Tigris, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, it was a cultural treasure house of mosques and churches containing the tombs of Old Testament prophets. But it is not so much its ancient glories which have fixed it in our consciousness, but the horrors of the past two decades.

It was battered by the Americans after the 2003 invasion, devastated by suicide attacks, then suffered the worse excesses of Islamic extremism, resulting in a Christian exodus before falling into the hands of Islamic State. ISIS or 'Da’esh' left the place a ruin, smashing many of its precious artefacts – not least those in the Mosul Museum where Assyrian sculptures were smashed.

Moved by the destruction, artist Piers Secunda visited the Mosul Museum in 2018, and was given permission by Iraq’s Minister of Culture to mould the broken stone surfaces of destroyed treasures from the Assyrian Rooms.

The artist has used those same techniques to create a new work for Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, which has a world-class collection of Mesopotamian art.

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The commission, called Damage Field, has been inspired and created by laser scanning and 3D printing the Ashmolean’s Assyrian relief, which stands in the Welcome Space, opposite the Information Desk on the ground floor. It is composed of casts Piers made in industrial floor paint, and the broken stone texture from the moulds he made from the ISIS-smashed sculptures.

It features as part of a new show exploring cultural identity and place which has been developed through a partnership with Oxford people from the Middle East.

Oxford Mail: Piers Secunda saw the damage to the Museum collections caused by so-called Islamic State or Da-eshPiers Secunda saw the damage to the Museum collections caused by so-called Islamic State or Da-esh

Owning the Past: from Mesopotamia to Iraq critically examines the role Oxford University played during the early 20th century in the formation of the nation state of Iraq.

Using objects, maps and diaries featured in the exhibition, local residents from the Middle East reflect on the colonial legacy that continues to have an impact today. For the first time at the Ashmolean, the exhibition will be presented in two languages – English and Arabic.

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Piers says: “The word ‘heritage’ might suggest the past – monuments and artefacts as an inheritance – but cultural heritage plays a fundamental role in the way people live their lives today.”

The huge stone panel from which Piers's work is taken comes from Nimrud and dates to around 870 BC. It was removed in the mid-19th century, before the modern borders of Iraq had been established, and was sent to the University of Oxford. Many of the remaining reliefs at Nimrud have since been destroyed by ISIS.

Oxford Mail:

Damage at the museum in Mosul

Piers hopes his work “acts as a metaphor for the wider destruction of individual and community identities resulting from war, colonialism, oppressive ideologies, and neglect.”

He also gathered charcoal from the partly burned Mosul Museum to make into ink and created a series of drawings, on display in the exhibition, based on photographs, “bringing remnants of the artefacts and the building back to life as new works of art.”

Owning the Past: from Mesopotamia to Iraq runs until May 16. Free admission but pre-booking required for general entry.

Free admission but pre-booking required for general entry.