In 2014 the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) began ruthless destruction of ancient and historical heritage, including sites as old as 3,000 years, in Iraq and Syria. A year later the world witnessed this through horrifying videos on social media. Responding to this unimaginable cultural loss, Iranian-born artist and activist Morehshin Allahyari initiated Material Speculation: Isis—creating 3D-printed replicas of twelve of the destroyed sculptures from the cities of Hatra and Nineveh. The project involved collecting extensive data and research with various historians, curators, and visual archives, which Allahyari placed on USB flash drives and embedded within the body of the statues. In her current series, She Who Sees the Unknown, she looks at stories from the South West Asian and North African (SWANA) region, re-figuring images of goddesses and djinns through a feminist lens as a way of weaving new magical narratives and speculating mythologies.
In this conversation with Allahyari, I discuss her artistic and research processes, unpacking issues of digital decolonization. The dialogue further addresses the philosophical underpinnings of her practice and looks at the use of technology as a means to reflect and challenge our collective political, social, and cultural pasts, presents, and futures.