Recently exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery was Iraqi-American and internationally celebrated artist Michael Rakowitz. Earlier this year, Rakowitz’s sculpture of Lamassu was chosen to occupy the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square. Made entirely from recycled packaging from Middle Eastern foods, it notably comprises of 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans.
This sculpture is part of an ongoing series started in 2006, ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ which attempts to recreate more than 15,000 Iraqi objects and artefacts that are now officially lost due to looting and war crimes. These reconstructions by the artist are intended as “ghosts or apparitions” to echo that which has been lost as opposed to imitating the originals. This is accentuated by their imperfect workmanship to highlight the absence of the real artefacts.
Various more recreations from this project were present in the Whitechapel exhibit, most notably would be the life-size murals made, in the same manner, from recycled trademark Iraqi brands. These reliefs of the murals are homage to of those formerly located in room N at the Northwest Palace of Nimrud and destroyed by ISIS in 2015. Accompanying texts quote various individuals on the loss of this cultural heritage:
“The damage done to Nimrud remains part of the catastrophic and ongoing destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage. Much of this destruction took place immediately post-2003 when archaeological sites in the south were heavily looted, along with the national museum in Bagdad.” -John Beck
Other memorable projects span the exhibition, including ‘The flesh is yours, the bones are ours’, a Turkish phrase spoken by parents when handing their children over as apprentices to craftsmen. And that is the focus of this body of work, the craft of Armenian artisans who helped shape the Art Nouveau architecture of Turkey. This is presented in conjunction with the realities of their persecution and exile.
Commissioned for the 2015 Istanbul Biennale, this work is an investigative look into Turkish-Armenian relations. Razowitz uses plaster-casts remoulded after original Armenian craftsmanship (made with help of the trainee who inspired the name of the project) and accompanying frottages from Istanbul city completed by students from the Armenian community. The intent is to highlight the extent to which these persecuted peoples have an embedded presence within Turkey.
The rest of the exhibition holds other extensive bodies of work such as ‘Dull Roar’ which opens the show and exemplifies the inevitable failure of utopian architecture. ‘What dust will rise?’ is the artist’s site-specific work for the international dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition which presents the stone carvings of various destroyed books from a workshop he ran in Afghanistan. Up on the second floor is ‘The Breakup’ with focus on the period spanning from 1940 to 1970 when the Beatles breakup coincided with the death of Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Rakowitz matches this two chronologies to highlight the attempts and latter dissolution of Pan-Arabism. Director of the gallery, Iwona Blazwick has said of Rakowitz’s work:
“From the Assyrian winged bull he placed in Trafalgar Square to the stone books he had carved from the ruins of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas, sculptor, detective and some time cook Michael Rakowitz turns the disasters of war into beacons of knowledge and hope.” -Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery