Material Speculation: Morehshin Allahyari Releases Collection So Public Can 3D Print Pieces Destroyed by ISIS


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three12Many are still cringing in horror over the devastation wrought by ISIS at the Mosul Museum in Iraq last year. In a violent plundering of the Mosul, the Jihadists entered the museum and went to work methodically smashing, toppling, and even sawing artifacts into pieces. At the time, it was estimated that while many of the items destroyed were valuable replicas, some of the statues and works of art were Assyrian artifacts as ancient as 3,000 years old—along with rare, original sculptures from the ancient trading city of Hatra.

Iranian media artist Morehshin Allahyari has been working for quite some time now to recreate some of the ruined pieces in 3D print. We began following her project, Material Speculation: ISIS, early this year, as she featured other 3D reconstructions, and after reaching out to archaeologists and staff at the museum, was going on to make 3D models of many of the artifacts ruined from Assyria and Hatra.

Her work has finally culminated in the release of her collection so far (this is an ongoing work in progress) at Toronto’s Trinity Square Video, an artist-run video production centre. While she has been working on uploading initial files from Material Speculation, she is trying to find a museum capable of archiving her files properly.

“I think the more people who have access to this information, the less that history is forgotten in a way,” Allahyari explained to Motherboard. “The more files that are saved on people’s computers, even if they’re never printed, the number of PDF files that are read or kept, the more that history that was initially removed by ISIS will be saved.”


Morehshin Allahyari

While her intent is to somehow save these relics and make them available to the public again in the only way possible, she doesn’t see the technology being used as helpful to society when it’s used just for the sake of pumping out more things; rather, Allahyari, in a recent interview with Motherboard, explained that she is using 3D technology for a very specific purpose here, and would like to see that continued as a whole.

“It’s not about celebrating it, but rather asking people to use it in ways that are pushing boundaries and are more than 3D printing a cube, which does nothing to add to the conversation and we’ll just end up with more crap and kipple around us,” she said. “I think this project is a good example of how you can think of 3D printing, it’s more than this design tool, you can really think about it as a tool that allows for political activism.”

Using 3D printing as a tool to fight ISIS is of course a tricky question. One, you must ask yourself what kind of impact she is making against them—although the impact in the gift she is giving the people is obvious, as they can can download, view, and even 3D print the artifacts she is busy making available via images she has found of them prior to the museum plundering.

On discussing the fact that oil is indeed a major source of income for ISIS, and essentially she is ‘fighting back’ with an oil-based product in terms of plastic, Allahyari admits that she is still trying to figure some of these things out, including the concern that 3D printers are certainly not available to everyone, and not even those in positions of privilege. As she charts her own course, she also questions that of others, as well as how the archiving of 3D files is being navigated.

“A lot of these projects that are saving Middle Eastern culture is that these are just tech companies that are going to the Middle East and Africa and 3D scanning things, but nobody really knows where these files are going or who owns them,” she explained. “I think that’s a big concern with this new technology: is this digital colonizing that’s happening around us as we speak?”

mainCertainly, just as many citizens around the world mourn death and destruction brought on by ISIS, all they can do is pick up the pieces and work to make the world a better, safer place in whatever small ways possible, just as Allahyari works to bring each museum piece back, image by image, download by download, print by print.

Material Speculation: ISIS goes beyond metaphoric gestures and digital and material forms of the artifacts by including a flash drive and a memory card inside the body of each 3D printed objects,” states Allahyari on her website. “Like time capsules, each object is sealed and kept for future civilizations. The information in these flash drives includes images, maps, pdf files, and videos gathered in the last months on the artifacts and sites that were destroyed.”


“These materials were sourced by an intense research process involving contacting different archeologists, historians, and museum staff (from Mosul Museum to archeologists and historians in Iraq and Iran).  In the coming months and as the final stage of the project, these 3D printable files will be archived and available online to download and be used by the public.”

We all have a responsibility to future generations to work to preserve history, although Allahyari has certainly been brave in taking on the challenge of rebuilding the Mosul inventory in a virtual 3D manner.

Allahyari was raised in Iran, but moved to the US in 2007. Her goal is to use technology as a philosophical toolset to reflect on objects, and as a poetic mean to document the personal and collective lives we live and our struggles as humans in the 21st century.

Discuss the way Allahyari is fighting the destruction of ISIS and preserving artifacts in the 3D Printed Material Speculation: ISIS forum over at



Note the flash drive inserted inside the piece.


Material Speculation: ISIS, Lamassu.

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