The idea of preserving artwork during times of war was brought into the public consciousness by a recent movie called "The Monuments Men." The movie is based on a true story about an international team of experts who saved works of art from the Nazis during World War II.
There is a modern-day version of that story playing out right now in the Middle East and an American cultural preservationist says everyone should be concerned about what Islamic State militants are doing to destroy the world’s common cultural heritage.
Corine Wegener is a retired major with 21 years of service in the U.S. Army Reserve. She played a vital role in helping the National Museum of Iraq recover from the looting that took place during the Gulf War.
“I came home and realized there’s just not a lot for the disaster response for cultural heritage around the world. There just aren’t too many organizations that are really equipped to do that kind of work,” Wegener said.
Now Wegener works with a group whose mission is to protect cultural and artistic treasures around the world from conflict and natural disasters.
Much of that effort today is focused on Iraq and Syria, where Islamic State extremists are destroying artifacts that date back to the dawn of civilization. Wegener says that even though what’s happening in the Middle East seems far away, everyone should be concerned about it.
“The heritage of ancient Mesopotamia, the land of the first cities, some of the first writing in the world — this is part of our shared cultural heritage,” she said. “If you write, or if you read languages, this is part of your cultural heritage, too. And what right do these people have to destroy it?”
Wegener will speak at West Virginia University’s Creative Arts Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, about efforts to protect cultural heritage sites in the Middle East and around the world.
Her talk is part of the activities celebrating the opening of the Art Museum of WVU.