Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities

2023 Paul Mellon Lecture

A Conversation with James Cuno, Irina Bokova, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, and Thomas G. Weiss

One year after the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the J. Paul Getty Trust invite you to attend the 2023 Paul Mellon Lecture on the intentional destruction of culture during conflict. The lecture will feature keynote speaker James Cuno, art historian, curator, and president emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Drawing from the recently released Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities, which he co-edited, James Cuno’s 2023 Paul Mellon Lecture will consider contemporary examples of targeted and affected sites, from the famous Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan, demolished by the Taliban in 2001, to the religious and cultural landmarks of Aleppo destroyed during the Syrian Civil War. The lecture will also share critical insights into how research, policy, and action agendas can help protect both people and their heritage. 

Following his keynote presentation, James will join a panel discussion with co-editor Thomas G. Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science at the CUNY Graduate Center and former co-chair of the Cultural Heritage at Risk Project of the J. Paul Getty Trust, as well as book contributors Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, and Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO. The discussion will be moderated by WMF President and CEO Bénédicte de Montlaur. 

Date: Thursday, February 23, 2023
Time: 6:30 pm ET

Photo: Al-Madina Souq in Aleppo, Syria, 2017. Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images.

About the Speakers

James Cuno

James Cuno

Art historian, curator, scholar, and president emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Trust

James Cuno is an American art historian, curator, scholar, museum leader, and former president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust (2011-2022). He is also the former Director of the Art Institute of Chicago (2004-2011), The Courtauld Institute (2003-04), and the Harvard Art Museums (1991-2002). He received his Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University. Cuno’s recent single- and coauthored books include Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum (2011), Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities (2009), and Who Owns Antiquity: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage (2008).


Irina Bokova

Irina Bokova

Former Director-General of UNESCO and Patron of the International Science Council

Irina Bokova is a Bulgarian politician and the former Director-General of UNESCO (2009–2017). The first woman to lead the organization, Bokova was particularly active in the defense of cultural heritage in conflict in Mali, Syria, and Iraq and in denouncing extremists’ destruction of heritage as a tool of war, which led to the adoption of several landmark resolutions by the UN Security Council on the link between maintaining peace, security and the protection of cultural heritage, particularly Resolution 2347 of March 2017. She was elected International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020 and in 2021 became an Honorary Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS). In 2022, Bokova was elected Patron of the International Science Council (ISC).


Lazare Eloundou Assomo

Lazare Eloundou Assomo

Director, UNESCO World Heritage Center

Lazare Eloundou Assomo is director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center since 2022. Prior to assuming this position, he worked as director of Culture and Emergencies in the Culture Sector of UNESCO (2018-2021) to coordinate emergency conservation responses to heritage affected by conflicts and disasters and the restitution of cultural property. Eloundou Assomo joined UNESCO in 2003, and from 2008 to 2013 worked as head of the Africa Unit of the World Heritage Center before becoming UNESCO’s head representative in Mali in 2014. Together with Ishanlosen Odiaua, he is the coauthor of African World Heritage: A Remarkable Diversity (2012). He holds degrees in architecture and urban planning.


Thomas G. Weiss

Thomas G. Weiss

Presidential Professor of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center and former co-chair of the Cultural Heritage at Risk Project

Thomas G. Weiss is Presidential Professor of Political Science at the CUNY Graduate Center; he is also Distinguished Fellow, Global Governance, at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a Global Eminence Scholar at Kyung Hee University, South Korea. He was co-chair of the Cultural Heritage at Risk Project of the J. Paul Getty Trust and research director of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. His recent single- and coauthored books include The “Third” United Nations: How a Knowledge Ecology Helps the UN Think (2021); Rethinking Global Governance (2019); The United Nations and Changing World Politics (2019); Would the World Be Better without the UN? (2018); and Humanitarianism, War, and Politics: Solferino to Syria and Beyond (2018).


Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF.
Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF.

Bénédicte de Montlaur

President and CEO, World Monuments Fund

Bénédicte de Montlaur is President and CEO of World Monuments Fund (WMF), the world’s foremost private organization dedicated to saving extraordinary places while empowering the communities around them. She is responsible for defining WMF’s strategic vision, currently implementing that vision in more than 30 countries around the world and leading a team that spans the globe. Her background mixes culture and the arts, politics, international diplomacy, and human rights. Prior to joining WMF, Montlaur spent two decades working across three continents as a senior diplomat at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities 

Reflecting Getty’s commitment to open content, Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities is available online at www.getty.edu/publications/cultural-heritage-mass-atrocities/ and may be downloaded free of charge in multiple formats.

About the Paul Mellon Lecture

Inaugurated in 2003, the Paul Mellon Lecture is supported by the Paul Mellon Education Fund and enables audiences to learn about critical issues in the field of cultural heritage.

Past Mellon Lecture speakers include Kwame Anthony Appiah discussing cultural heritage and identities of Africa; Kent Weeks considering the challenges of tourism management in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt; Charles Dempsey on the history of the Carracci Gallery in the Farnese Palace in Rome; Anna Somers Cocks on the impact of ever-increasing tourist numbers in Venice; and Iwan Baan offering the audience a glimpse into the intricacies of his photographic process, capturing culture with intimate detail and profound emotion.

The Paul Mellon Lecture is made possible by the Paul Mellon Education Fund.

The 2023 Paul Mellon Lecture is co-hosted by World Monuments Fund and the J. Paul Getty Trust. 

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