Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Brianne Cohen

Second Advisor

Robert Nauman

Third Advisor

Artemi Romanov


This thesis investigates and highlights the disjunction that is present between the art community and the international legal community when it comes to the protection of cultural heritage from destruction during armed conflict. Due to ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, discussions on preservation are once again getting media attention, and it is paramount to review existing methods and procedures that could be used to prosecute those responsible for the destruction of cultural heritage during armed conflict. This thesis will first outline the prevalence of iconoclasm throughout centuries as a war strategy and the implications that iconoclastic acts carry on victims of such crimes. This thesis will then review the existing legal remedies in international law that strive to safeguard cultural heritage from destruction and the laws that establish criminal liability for such acts. Finally, this thesis analyzes the case of Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi and argues that while legal mechanisms exist to prosecute individuals for the destruction of cultural heritage, these mechanisms reveal a 1) fundamental misunderstanding of art historical discourse and aesthetics and 2) the impact that iconoclasm has on the collective memory and identity of communities. The discussion finds that without legal recognition of iconoclasm, cultural genocide and ethnocide, the trauma that they inflict, and the symbolic meaning manifested within regionalist architecture, we cannot begin to safeguard cultural heritage and seek justice for victims of such acts.