The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist
14.9 – 17.11 2019
Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz has adopted a mission of colossal magnitude: to preserve memories, narratives and stories deeply connected to artefacts that have been displaced or simply ceased to exist. Since 2007 Rakowitz has effortlessly sought to recreate the close to 8000 historical objects that were looted from the National Museum of Iraq following the 2003 American invasion. But the materials of choice are not sandstone or bronze, instead he utilises tin cans, colourful wrappings and other commodities imported from the Middle East – often hazardously so. These commonplace objects that once contained candy, food preserves or soap are now being filled with the collective tales of the Iraqi diaspora.
The waves of senseless destruction that have ravaged the countries of former Mesopotamia the last decades do however not constitute national tragedies. In the words of Rakowitz, “the ruination is a loss for all humanity”. Following the calculated cultural eradication of ancient buildings, statues and artefacts by the hands of ISIS, Rakowitz has turned his attention to the recreation of these annihilated objects. The project is called The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist and the results are astounding. One current example is an Assyrian statue of a lamassu, a winged bull, that will reside on Trafalgar Square in London until 2020 as part of the Fourth Plinth public art project.
Malmö Konsthall’s autumn exhibition of 2019 is focusing on Rakowitz’ work Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud (2018), a series of bas-reliefs that decked the walls of a monumental palace in ancient Nimrud, south of Mosul. These magnificent Assyrian sculptures survived both the Babylonian invasion of 612 BC and the attraction of British Museum some 2.500 years later. They could not withstand the bulldozers and explosives set by ISIS in 2015, however. Now Michael Rakowitz is bringing these bas-reliefs and many other historical objects back to life by displaying them around the world. ”I can’t make other things right now”, states Rakowitz. ”Because these things that have disappeared kind of need their ghost.”
Malmö’s population consists of 182 nationalities with over 11.000 citizens born in Iraq. The number of Syrian exiles and refugees are of course also considerable. Michael Rakowitz’ The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is an impressive and important project regardless of locality, but perhaps even more so in this city. Malmö Konsthall will collaborate with local Iraqi expats, strengthening the exhibition programme with their unique perspectives and experiences. There will also be a number of events and workshops thematically linked to Rakowitz oeuvre and the general theme of cultural destruction.
Michael Rakowitz is a professor at the Art, Theory & Practice faculty, Northwestern College, Chicago.
Michael Rakowitz. The invisible enemy should not exist. (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Panel 21) detail, 2018. Relief from Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers, glue, cardboard on wooden structures. Courtesy Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin. Photo: Nick Ash.