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For the past six months, a team in London has been working with Northwestern University professor Michael Rakowitz to construct a 14-foot Assyrian winged bull with a human head, or Lamassu, created from 9,000 steel cans of date syrup made in modern day Iraq. The sculpture of the winged bull was a guardian spirit that protected the gates of the Assyrian city of Nineveh for almost 3,000 years until it was smashed to rubble by Isis in 2015.
On March 28, the sculpture, entitled “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist,” was unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, one of London’s iconic attractions.
Founded in 1998, the Fourth Plinth program is the most popular public art project in the United Kingdom. Funded by the Mayor of London’s Office with support from the Arts Council England, the program commissions world-class artists to make astonishing new works for the center of the capital city. The Fourth Plinth has become the capital’s most prominent site for temporary installations of contemporary art.
“The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” will be on view on the Fourth Plinth until 2020. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the artist chose to recreate the winged bull full size, but made from flattened date tins to mourn not just the sculpture’s destruction but the loss of the country’s major export trade in dates and date syrup.
About Michael Rakowitz
A professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Mr. Rakowitz is an Iraqi-American conceptual artist who operates within art spaces and beyond them. In his series paraSITE, Mr. Rakowitz built customized, inflatable shelters for the homeless using a budget of $5 for plastic bags and waterproof tape for each shelter. He used buildings’ exterior vents for heat.
In “Return,” produced by Creative Time in 2004, Mr. Rakowitz reopened his grandfather’s import and export business, Davison’s & Co., which first operated in Baghdad and then relocated to New York when his family was exiled in 1946. Mr. Rakowitz’s resurrected family business offered free shipping to Iraq three months after the U.S. declared stifling trade restrictions on the country.
“Spoils,” another collaboration of Mr. Rakowitz and Creative Time, took a more provocative and personal approach to American-Iraqi relations. Housed at Park Avenue Autumn restaurant, the 2011 culinary and art experience provided patrons with traditional Iraqi dishes served on rare pieces of fine China from Saddam Hussein’s personal collection. A cease-and-desist letter from the State Department calling for the surrender of the plates abruptly ended “Spoils” and resulted in their return to Iraqi territory. It was, according to Mr. Rakowitz, a “kind of perfect” ending to the project.
About the Fourth Plinth
The Fourth Plinth program was initiated in 1998 by the Royal Society of Arts with the support of the Cass Sculpture Foundation.
In 1999, responsibility for Trafalgar Square was transferred to the Mayor of London. The Fourth Plinth program is now led by the Mayor’s Culture Team under the guidance of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group.