The Arch of Triumph stood for centuries in Palmyra, Syria, but it only received overwhelming media attention worldwide when Islamic State militants captured the ancient city in May 2015 and severely damaged the archaeological site. The arch was replicated by the Institute for Digital Archaeology in the United Kingdom as an “act of defiance” against this barbarism. Within a year of the original arch’s destruction, the replica was touring the world. It was intended to be a symbol of solidarity but, as Astrid Feringa shows in this installation, the Western oriented cultural discourse ignored a longer history of colonial appropriation of heritage.
In the installation, two “sides” of the triumphal arch offer a fresh perspective on the efforts that have been made to preserve Syrian heritage. Do we witness how idealism and technical ingenuity are being used for the benefit of humanity, or rather how reconstruction itself plays a part in establishing a power relation? It becomes clear that the contrast between destruction and reconstruction isn’t as stark as one might think.