Vandalism of Cultural Heritage: Thoughts Preceding Conservation Interventions | Dimitrios Chatzigiannis
Vandalism, or acts of deliberate destruction, has occurred throughout history. Irrespective of vandalism’s social, political, or religious intent, the act itself constitutes damage upon the material landscape. It is an interaction between an individual and his or her direct material environment. The act derives from this environment and leaves a material trace. Thus, it often calls for the conservator’s attention.
This paper will attempt to highlight some aspects of the phenomenon. These are not the only aspects nor are they necessarily the most important; however, they represent tricky dimensions of the destruction of material heritage. In this paper, the role of sovereign politics and aesthetics and the role of minority groups or individuals in their formation are considered important factors in perceiving acts of vandalism. Respectively, the same factors are also crucial for conservation decision making.
It is argued that the perception and the interpretation of an act of vandalism, like the interpretation of any historic event, is not static but is subject to continuous reevaluation. When a spherical and comparative study of an act of destruction is taking place, the contradictions and the inherent conflicts that coexist in the act are revealed. As a deeper approach is attempted, these contradictions seem greater.
Why Study Vandalism?
A major element of conservation discipline is the interpretation and the evaluation of damage. Damage to objects or monuments of cultural heritage very often is perceived as a problem. Dirt or mold is removed from monuments and broken pieces are restored to their previous form. Other types of damage—for example, the patina of the old varnish or of the marble—are considered as beautiful. Often the preservation of damage is considered historically important, like the traces of an attack on an ancient fortification or the hole from the bullet on Lord Nelson’s coat.
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