Image of one of Michael Rakowitz's large, colorful works.
Michael Rakowitz, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist Room G”. Photo: Helene Toresdotter.

Michael Rakowitz – The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (Room G)

14.9 2019 – 12.1 2020

Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz has adopted a mission of colossal magnitude: to preserve memories, narratives and stories deeply connected to artefacts that have been displaced or simply ceased to exist. Since 2007 Rakowitz has effortlessly sought to recreate the close to 8000 historical objects that were looted from the National Museum of Iraq following the 2003 American invasion. But the materials of choice are not sandstone or bronze, instead he utilises tin cans, colourful wrappings and other commodities imported from the Middle East – often hazardously so. These commonplace objects that once contained candy, food preserves or soap are now being filled with the collective tales of the Iraqi diaspora.

Recreates what ISIS has destroyed

The waves of senseless destruction that have ravaged the countries of former Mesopotamia the last decades do however not constitute national tragedies. In the words of Rakowitz, “the ruination is a loss for all humanity”. Following the calculated cultural eradication of ancient buildings, statues and artefacts by the hands of ISIS, Rakowitz has turned his attention to the recreation of these annihilated objects. The project is called The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist and the results are astounding. One current example is an Assyrian statue of a lamassu, a winged bull, that will reside on Trafalgar Square in London until 2020 as part of the Fourth Plinth public art project.

“I can’t make other things right now”

Malmö Konsthall’s autumn exhibition of 2019 is focusing on Rakowitz’ work “Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud” (2018), a series of bas-reliefs that decked the walls of a monumental palace in ancient Nimrud, south of Mosul. These magnificent Assyrian sculptures survived both the Babylonian invasion of 612 BC and the attraction of British Museum some 2.500 years later. They could not withstand the bulldozers and explosives set by ISIS in 2015, however. Now Michael Rakowitz is bringing these bas-reliefs and many other historical objects back to life by displaying them around the world. ”I can’t make other things right now”, states Rakowitz. ”Because these things that have disappeared kind of need their ghost.”

Involves Iraqis in Malmö

Malmö’s population consists of 182 nationalities with over 11.000 citizens born in Iraq. The number of Syrian exiles and refugees are of course also considerable. Michael Rakowitz’ “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” is an impressive and important project regardless of locality, but perhaps even more so in this city. Irakiska Kulturföreningen i Malmö (The Iraqi Cultural Society of Malmö) will partner up with Malmö Konsthall for the opening night of the exhibition. Its members will also conduct special tours of the exhibition, sharing their experiences and stories with the visitors. The Educational branch of Malmö Konsthall will greatly benefit from the collaboration with Irakiska Kulturföreningen i Malmö as well. There will also be a number of talks and seminars thematically linked to Rakowitz oeuvre and the general theme of cultural destruction, in partnership with Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Lund University and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, among others.

See Malmö Konsthall’s interview with Michael Rakowitz here

Michael Rakowitz is a professor at the Art, Theory & Practice faculty, Northwestern College, Chicago.

Portrait of a laughing Michael Rakowitz
Michael Rakowitz 2019. Photo: Malmö Konsthall
En svartvit bild av Malmö Konsthall helt fylld med människor.
The opening was organized in collaboration with Irakiska Kulturföreningen, and the turnout was great during the festive evening.
Svartvit bild av en grupp människor som deltar i en visning av en utställning.
Members of the Irakiska Kulturföreningen held guided tours throughout the exhibition.
Image of a woman standing in front of and looking at one of Michael Rakowitz's colorful works.
“The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist Room G” installation view Malmö Konsthall 2019. Foto: Helene Toresdotter
Close-up of one of Michael Rakowitz's large, colorful paper mache works. A hand holding a small bag.
Michael Rakowitz, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Panel 19)”, detail 2018. Photo: Helene Toresdotter