pleased to present The invisible enemy should not exist, Michael
Rakowitz’s most recent project, an attempt to reconstruct the
archeological artifacts looted from the National Museum of Iraq in the
aftermath of the American invasion in April 2003.
The title of the exhibition takes its name from the direct translation
of Aj-ibur-shapu, the ancient Babylonian street that was used as a
processional way and that ran through the Ishtar Gate. This magnificent
blue tile gate, which was excavated in Iraq in 1902-1914 by German
archeologist Robert Koldewey, is on permanent exhibition at the
Pergamon Museum in Berlin. In the 1950s, the Iraqi government rebuilt
the gate; close by stands a reconstruction of the ancient city of
Babylon, created by Saddam Hussein as a monument to his own
sovereignty. Today the reconstructed Ishtar Gate is the site most
frequently photographed and posted on the Internet by US servicemen
stationed in Iraq.
The invisible enemy should not exist unfolds as an intricate narrative
based on extensive research about the artifacts stolen from the Museum,
the current status of their whereabouts, and the series of events
surrounding the invasion, the plundering and related protagonists.
Alluding to the implied invisibility of these artifacts—initial reports
about their looting were inflated due to the “fog of war,” stated
Museum officials—the reconstructions are made from the packaging of
Middle Eastern foodstuffs and local Arabic newspapers, moments of
cultural visibility found in cities across the United States. The
objects were created together with a team of assistants using the
University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute database, as well as
information posted on Interpol’s website. This exhibition represents
the incipient stage of an ongoing commitment to recuperate the over
7,000 objects that remain missing.
Serving as a display structure for the recreated artifacts, Rakowitz
has designed a long continuous table, whose shape derives from the
measurements and layout of the Processional Way.
A series of episodic drawings punctuate the installation. The drawings
reveal a narrative that includes the story of Dr. Donny George, former
President of the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and
Director General of the National Museum in Baghdad, who worked
tirelessly to recover looted artifacts.
Under Saddam Hussein, Dr. George worked at archeological sites to avoid
Ba’ath Party meetings and also sidelined as a drummer in a band called
99%, which specialized in covers of Deep Purple songs. A version of
their “Smoke on the Water,” recorded especially for this project by the
New York-based Arabic band Ayyoub, becomes the sound background for the
show. The original lyrics recall a disastrous fire during a Frank Zappa
concert at a Swiss casino, in which the entire building was destroyed.
After threats to his family, Dr. George resigned his post, fleeing to
Syria in August 2006. He arrived recently in the US as a Visiting
Professor in the Department of Anthropology at SUNY Stony Brook.
Michael Rakowitz’s recent exhibitions include Return, a project in
which he resurrected his Iraqi grandfather’s import-export business in
order to bring Iraqi dates to the US—the first such shipment in over 25
years. The shop was located on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in the heart
of New York City’s Arab community. The project was presented by
Creative Time as part of its Who Cares initiative. Rakowitz’s upcoming
exhibitions include the Sharjah Biennial 8 and the Istanbul Biennial.