Dichotomy of Barbarity
“The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares. This is why the protection of culture must be an integral part of all humanitarian and security efforts, and cannot be delinked from the protection of human lives and the support we owe to all the victims.”
--Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General
From the Taliban’s dynamiting of the Colossal Buddha statues at Bamiyan to the exploding and bulldozing of the ancient city of Palmyra by ISIS, the world is witnessing the senseless destruction of cultural heritage sites on a massive scale as an instrument of terror and psychological warfare. The locations in Syria and Iraq of some of the latest of these barbarous attacks come into the crosshairs on the right-hand side of Brian Dailey’s Dichotomy of Barbarity, which zooms in on a region coming under intense international scrutiny and eliciting expressions of world outrage for such savage acts by terrorists.
As precious artifacts bequeathed to humanity from past generations are being ripped from beneath us, Dailey entreats the viewer to take stock of the parallel threat to our cultural heritage posed by a nuclear attack on one of any number of major Western cities where significant repositories of art, architecture, and artifacts of incalculable value are housed.
The artist graphically equates these variables of cultural cleansing in his Dichotomy of Barbarity, balancing the Middle East targets on the right with a bird’s-eye view of Manhattan on the left with the bead of a nuclear strike being drawn on the Museum of Modern Art at ground zero. Concentric rings demarcating zone levels of destruction and fallout emanating from the blast underscore the instantaneous decimation and catastrophic loss of national and global cultural heritage that a nuclear firestorm would unleash across the city’s landscape and surrounding areas.
Tightly framed within bold green and red circles, these twin close-up targets illustrate with dramatic optical effect extreme examples on both ends of the spectrum of barbarity. Indeed, the stark compositional construct of complementary colors—the afterimage of which replicates its opposite—forces the viewer to acknowledge the savagery inherent in both scenarios, each one culminating in the same outcome.