The most striking images representing the consequences of the conflict in recent times were the ones of the destruction of the ancient temples in Syria conducted by the notorious ISIS. This unprecedented action launched a growing debate among the scholars regarding the culturicide, the systematic destruction of cultural heritage, and made a significant shift in the methodology of contemporary combat.
The concern for the well-being of world heritage has been a lasting subject matter present in the practice of Michael Rakowitz, the Iraqi-American artist best known for his outdoor sculptures and projects that are exploring various other aspects of Arabic culture.
His series symbolically titled The invisible enemy should not exist (Room F, section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud) currently shown at New York's Jane Lombard Gallery nicely illustrate the way the artist articulates the mentioned destruction indicating the current geopolitical turmoil concerning the Middle East.
This exhibition consists of the recreations of bas-reliefs located at Room F in Palace at Nimrud, in modern-day Iraq, as well as the film The Ballad of Special Ops Cody. As a matter of fact, the whole project was launched in 2007 and was presented at the former Lombard-Freid Gallery.
Rakowitz collected data from UCLA, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, and Interpol, to recreate artifacts that were demolished or stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 US invasion. These reliefs continue to tackle important themes such as colonialism, preservation, and the culturcide.
The reliefs from Room F, a banquet courtyard within King Ashurnasirpal II’s 9th century BC palace built in Kalhu (the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud) are displayed; in 2015 the palace was destroyed by ISIS, and four hundred of the six hundred gypsum reliefs that once lined the walls were removed by archaeologists during expeditions and sent to museums in the West. With each edition of The invisible enemy should not exist, the artist and his team remade the destroyed reliefs and the surrounding architecture of the original rooms where the panels were once installed. The gaps between the reliefs were kept on purpose to show various extractions and underline the continuation of cultural displacement in Iraq.
The visitors will have a unique chance to see the stop-motion animation film The Ballad of Special Ops Cody in contrast to the reliefs; it is based on the true story of an attempt by the Iraqi insurgent group to convince Americans that they had taken a soldier hostage.
Namely, in 2005, photographs of the alleged captive held by gunpoint leaked; however, the hostage was not a captured soldier, but a popular plastic doll sold on military bases called Special Ops Cody. The film features the action figure voiced by a veteran of the Iraq war. Cody is on a mission to save the statues from their vitrines, but he is unsure they remained in the Oriental Institute where they were on display.
It is apparent that this Michael Rakowitz exhibition will bring important questions to a gallery context to spread awareness of the extent of horrific crimes based on racial and ethnic hatred.
The invisible enemy should not exist will be on display at Jane Lombard Gallery in New York City until 22 February 2020.
Featured image: Michael Rakowitz - The invisible enemy should not exist (Room F, section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud), 2019. Middle Eastern food packaging and newspapers, glue, cardboard on wooden structures, museum label. Image detail: Panic Studio LA. Copyright: City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural affairs. All images courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery.