Iraqi-Jewish artist recreates Assyrian bull in London

A winged Assyrian bull made of 10,000 cans of date syrup – popularly known to Iraqi Jews as silan – is now gracing the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. It is a statement by Michael Rakowitz, an artist-provocateur with Iraqi-Jewish roots, about the destruction of Iraq’s heritage.  The Guardian has the story (with thanks: Michelle):

Rakowitz’s Assyrian winged bull is made of 10,000 date syrup cans

In February 2015, Isis militants videoed themselves
drilling the face off one of the commanding stone statues that had
guarded the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh for more than a
thousand years. The lamassu – winged bulls with serene human
faces – were among the most monumental casualties of a spree of
destruction that over just a few days reduced many of Iraq’s most
precious artefacts to pebbles.

On 28 March, 2018, the life-sized “ghost” of one of these fabulous Assyrian creatures will be unveiled atop the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square,
where it will stand with its back to the National Gallery, gazing
south-east past the Foreign Office and the Houses of Parliament towards
its spiritual home in the Middle East.

The 14ft-long statue is both a one-off statement and part of an ambitious long-term project by Michael Rakowitz,
a 44-year-old Iraqi-American who has become one of the world’s most
political – and powerful – artist-provocateurs. The aim of The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is no less than to reconstruct all 7,000 objects known to have been looted from the National Museum of Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion by the US-led coalition. (…)

Though he has never set foot in Iraq,
Rakowitz is saturated in the culture of a country where his mother’s
family lived until 1946 when, fearing for their safety as Arab Jews in
an increasingly divided region, his grandfather made the decision to
move them to the US, continuing to run his import-export business from
New York.

From there, a generation on, they watched in horror as – in
his mother’s words – the country they had escaped to invaded the one
from which they had escaped. The start of the Iraqi looting coincided
with Rakowitz’s own development, in his late 20s, from an artist who
worked mainly in public spaces to one who was part of the gallery
system. “When you get involved with galleries you have to come to terms
with the thought that you’ve made something that’s going to be sold; and
at the same time all these artefacts were being put up for sale.”

He became addicted to eBay
(“It’s like a search engine for me”), on one occasion buying 18 of
Saddam Hussein’s dinner plates from a US veteran and a refugee whose
father had been a high-ranking soldier in the Iraqi army. The plates
were to feature in one of his more mischievous works, Spoils (2011), in which he persuaded a Manhattan restaurant to use them to serve an Iraqi dish of venison and date syrup.

The project was halted after two months when the restaurant received a
cease-and-desist letter from the US Department of State. The plates
were confiscated and returned to Iraq in a diplomatic deal that he says
was brokered by Barack Obama. “He was meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, so
it was a ceremonial handover – a photo op … these 18 plates, which were a
symbol of Saddam, going back on the plane of the Iraqi prime minister.”

Rakowitz insists he is not interested in controversy or spectacle but
concedes that his work asks difficult questions. “I think discomfort is
important. I describe the work I’m involved in as a process where
problem-solving is also troublemaking.”

Read article in full 

More about Michael Rakowitz’s projects

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