Palmyra is a city in what is now Syria. In the 1st century AD it was ruled by the Roman Empire and it was a wealthy trading centre. Around that time, artisans built a limestone statue in tribute to the goddess al-Lat.
The statue was 3.5 m (11 ft) high, and weighed 15 tonnes. It showed a lion, the consort of al-Lat, with a gazelle between its legs — symbolic of the goddess’s opposition to bloodshed.
After centuries of neglect, including being disassembled to use the stone for other purposes, the Lion of al-Lat was rediscovered by Polish archeologists in 1977. The statue was restored, and relocated to the entrance of the Palmyra Museum. In 2005, it underwent a second restoration. During the Syrian Civil War the treasured statue was protecting from fighting.
Sadly, in 2015, Palmyra was captured by ISIS, and the Lion of al-Lat, which had survived close to 2,000 years, was demolished in a single day on June 27.
That was when I first learned about the statue, and I decided there and then that a statue celebrating a goddess who had opposed violence should not be allowed to be destroyed and consigned to oblivion. I began my carving, called Last Laugh Lion, the next day, to keep the memory of this ancient artifact and what it stood for alive.
I finished my lion on October 15, 2017.
The next day, I learned that unbeknownst to me, the whole time I’d been working on Last Laugh Lion, restorers had been at work on the original. Two weeks before my lion was finished, the original statue was restored. Some pieces are missing, and it has lost its imposing stone backing, but you can now see the Lion of al-Lat at the National Museum of Damascus.
Last Laugh Lion – Finished, October 2017
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