As a writer fascinated with history, I’m not ashamed to admit that I sometimes struggle to picture – with any genuine clarity – the world before photos and videos. Although my research for history writing has concerned modern Europe (predominantly Munich), in research years I have increasingly also studied the Middle East, mainly Iraq. I was, therefore, utterly delighted to discover that Paris-based Iraqi artist and engineer Kais Jacob Ishak has created a series of 3D reconstructions of various ancient cities, plus various modern architectural treasures, such as mosques and churches.
Clips of the videos, hosted on Vimeo, take viewers on trips across Babylon, Mosul (video below), Nineveh (where Ishak was born), Baghdad and other places, providing startling recreations of cities I’ve tried – and largely failed – to imagine through books , paintings and articles.
The innumerable challenges facing modern Iraq are well documented, but beneath the negative headlines, some progress (albeit uneven) is being made, and most ordinary Iraqis live ordinary lives, just like anywhere else in the world (shopping, going to restaurants, watching films, cooking, worrying about money, trying to improve their lot and so on). Ok, its recent history ensures it’s not an entirely ‘typical’ country (which, of course, is purely imaginary), but a nuanced image of Iraq means looking deeper than most media outlets can be bothered to do.
And part of re-imagining contemporary Iraq should involve remembering the country’s long history (see this Al Monitor interview with Ishak for his take on the lack of understanding even in Iraq) . Depicting a people and place as ossified, as a basket case or unchanging is not only innaccurate but it is also damaging. In Kais Jacob Ishak’s 3D reconstructions, we get illuminating insights into ancient Iraqi cities, and they should remind us of the origins of civilisation, their connections to the lives we live today and that history doesn’t stand still.