During the night of August 25, 1914, a library holding 230,000 volumes went up in flames. It was the centenary of this incident—the destruction by German troops of the university library in Leuven—that prompted the exhibition “Ravaged: Art and Culture in Times of Conflict”. The destruction of the centuries-old university in Leuven sent a shockwave around the world, heralding the new practice of deliberately destroying libraries and other cultural resources as a strategy of twentieth-century warfare.
The exhibition “Ravaged: Art and Culture in Times of Conflict” at M–Museum Leuven (2014) moves from a cultural-historical perspective, focusing on five thematic clusters that recur throughout history in representations of crimes against culture: ravaged cities, ruins, targeted heritage, propaganda, and art theft. Parallel to a historical section, which covers the period up to the end of the First World War, ten contemporary artists (Adel Abdessemed, Lida Abdul, Sven Augustijnen, Fernando Bryce, Cai Guo-Qiang, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, Lamia Joreige, Michael Rakowitz and Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor) have been invited to show work tying into the exhibition theme—including two new creations, especially commissioned for “Ravaged”.
This publication sets out to explore their respective oeuvres, and to provide more information about past projects and new ones. Even today, works of art are not only deliberately destroyed, but plundered, stolen from museums or dug up illegally from archeological sites. By including these contemporary visions, it shows how local histories fit into a near-endless litany of devastation and plunder, and how the destruction of cultural heritage remains a widespread scourge.
Designed by Sara De Bondt and published in collaboration with M–Museum Leuven.