Aaron Tugendhaft’s new book, The Idols of ISIS (University of Chicago Press), begins with the uncanny resemblance between two images from northern Iraq: an eight-century BC palace relief of three Assyrian soldiers smashing the sculpture of a king, and a viral video from 2015 depicting Islamic State fighters doing the same thing in the Mosul Museum. Why this persistent drive to destroy images? Why make other images showing their destruction?
Tugendhaft’s book addresses these fundamental questions about the role of images in politics. Drawing connections across millennia, from ancient Assyrian art through medieval Islamic philosophy to first-person shooter video games, The Idols of ISIS provides a richly layered reflection on the politics of iconoclasm. With relevance well beyond the particularity of the Islamic State’s caliphate, The Idols of ISIS reveals why false images are necessary for establishing pluralistic politics and thereby forces us to reconsider the deep-seated impulse to rid the world of idols.
Tugendhaft will be joined by artist Michael Rakowitz, writer Rijin Sahakian, and scholar Wendy M. K. Shaw to discuss the political power of images, the persistent drive to destroy them, and why we regularly make new ones depicting that destruction.