This weekend, President Trump shocked the world when he announced on Twitter his plan to attack cultural sites in Iran should the country retaliate for the death of military commander Qasem Soleimani. Since then, cultural authorities the world over have spoken out against the president’s controversial threat, with some—including Britain’s foreign secretary—pointing out that it would violate international conventions, amounting to a war crime.
Now, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is joining the chorus of dissent. In a rare wade into politics, the museum’s director, Max Hollein, and its CEO, Daniel H. Weiss, released a joint statement today “in response to recent comments about Iran.” (Notably, they avoided mentioning Trump directly.) See the full statement below.
The targeting of sites of global cultural heritage is abhorrent to the collective values of our society. Our world knows precisely what is gained from protecting cultural sites, and, tragically, what is lost when destruction and chaos prevail. At this challenging time, we must remind ourselves of the global importance of protecting cultural sites—the objects and places by which individuals, communities, and nations connect to their history and heritage. Today’s leaders and citizens have many profound responsibilities—protecting lives, and also protecting the precious legacy of generations before us, as it is from these shared places of cultural heritage that we gain the wisdom to secure safe and better futures.
Such an overtly political gesture is rare for any museum, let alone one as prominent at the Met. But Trump’s increasingly incendiary actions toward Iran have spurred many in the arts to speak out, including the Met’s former director and current head of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Thomas Campbell, and Tristram Hunt, the former politician and current director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Professional museum organizations were quick to follow. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which represents 225 art museums in North America, also weighed in, saying in a statement that the organization “deplores the tactic of targeting or demolishing cultural sites as part of any war or armed conflict. In this case, the region is home to unique and irreplaceable artifacts and archaeological sites, and AAMD strongly urges international engagement to protect and preserve our shared cultural heritage.”
The American Alliance of Museums—another leading museum trade organization that also tends to conspicuously avoid wading into politics—also released a statement “condemn[ing] the targeting of cultural sites for destruction.” The group continued: “We expect the United States Government to comply with international law and urge the US Government to reaffirm its commitment to its longstanding practice of not targeting cultural sites during peace or wartime.”
Iran is home to 22 cultural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis and the Chogha Zanbil complex.
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