Michael Rakowitz’s new work The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist was unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square today, Thursday 28 March, by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is a project that Rakowitz started in 2006. It attempts to recreate more than 7,000 objects looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003 or destroyed at archaeological sites across the country in the aftermath of the war. For the Fourth Plinth Rakowitz has recreated the Lamassu, a winged bull and protective deity that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) from c 700 B.C, until it was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. It will be the 12th work to appear on the Fourth Plinth since the commissioning programme began in 1998, and will be on the plinth until March 2020.
The reconstructions in The Invisible Enemy are made from recycled food packaging, similar to the reliefs at the base of Nelson’s Column being made from canons salvaged from the wreck of HMS Royal George. The Lamassu is made of 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representative of a once-renowned industry decimated by the Iraq Wars.
Artist Michael Rakowitz said:
“This work is unveiled in Trafalgar Square at a time when we are witnessing a massive migration of people fleeing Iraq and Syria. I see this work as a ghost of the original, and as a placeholder for those human lives that cannot be reconstructed, that are still searching for sanctuary.”
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said:
“I am delighted to unveil this new work by Michael Rakowitz, the next sculpture to be featured on the Fourth Plinth – the world’s most famous public art platform. Michael’s work shows the power of art to bring to life politics, cultures and personal stories from around the world and across generations.”
Ekow Eshun, Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, said:
“Michael Rakowitz has created a powerful, timely artwork that reaches back through history to offer pertinent commentary on the world today. I’m sure it will become a new landmark for London. Michael was chosen from the most international shortlist for the Fourth Plinth to date, demonstrating our commitment to bringing the work of leading national and international artists to London.”
Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries, said:
“There’s a real buzz whenever we unveil a new work for the Fourth Plinth. Londoners and visitors to the capital are always excited to see what will be on the plinth next. Michael’s work, the twelfth piece to be unveiled on the site, is both beautiful and thought-provoking. It will be seen by millions of people in the heart of the capital and is testament to the enduring appeal of the world’s most high-profile public art space.”
To coincide with the unveiling, Rakowitz is creating a limited-edition artwork using date syrup tins sourced from Karbala in Iraq. Each is accompanied by a book of date syrup recipes, including contributions from chef Claudia Roden, Middle Eastern restaurant Honey & Co., and the artist’s mother, Yvonne Rakowitz. A new range of products from design company Plinth and the Mayor of London will accompany the work, inspired by the use of food in Rakowitz’s art as a way of bridging cultural and political divides. It includes tote bags, wooden spoons and aprons, and the items feature the Arabic proverb: A House With A Date Palm Will Never Starve. A portion of the profits from the merchandise sales will be given to support the Mayor of London’s educational projects. These will be available at a pop-up in Trafalgar Square on the 28 March, and online at plinth.uk.com.
Michael Rakowitz was born in New York in 1973 and lives and works in Chicago, where he is professor at Northwestern University. His first museum survey Backstroke of the West was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2017/18. Rakowitz’s work explores global issues and invites others into the conversations fostered by his public projects, installations and events.