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Michael Rakowitz: The invisible enemy should not exist

The invisible enemy should not exist unfolds as an intricate narrative about the artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad, in the aftermath of the US invasion of April 2003; the current status of their whereabouts; and the series of events surrounding the invasion, the plundering, and related protagonists. The centerpiece of the project is an ongoing series of sculptures that represent an attempt to reconstruct the looted archaeological artifacts.

Installation view: Michael Rakowitz: The invisible enemy should not exist, Jane Lombard Gallery, New York, 2020. Courtesy Jane Lombard Gallery, New York

The title of the exhibition takes its name from the direct translation of Aj-ibur-shapu, the ancient Babylonian processional way that ran through the Ishtar Gate. Drawings tell the story of how the gate was excavated in Iraq in 1902-14 by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey and then put on permanent exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, 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. Alluding to the implied invisibility of the museum 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.


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