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ArtReview Asia

Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest Palace of Kalhu, Room S, Panel S-20) (detail), 2022

"On entering this exhibition, I’m immediately drawn to a series of colourful panels depicting familiar winged figures: logos and words in English and Arabic are revealed in the layered spirals of their beards, the feathers of their wings, their horned helmets and decorated wrists, the tasselled garments that wrap and drape around their bodies, and their skin. They say things like ‘halal chicken flavored bouillon’, ‘Medjool dates’ and ‘eastern sweets’. These paper-collage reliefs are Rakowitz’s latest reconstructions of the sculptural originals that adorned the walls of the ancient Assyrian Northwest Palace of Kalhu (Nimrud) near present-day Mosul, Iraq. Institutions in Europe and the US have excavated such creations at the palace since the mid-1800s (with artefacts kept at institutions including the British Museum, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Any panels that remained after this looting were destroyed by ISIS in 2015. Drawing from databases of reference images, Rakowitz rebuilds the reliefs using polychromatic papier-mâché made of West Asian food- packaging and Arabic-English newspapers (including for the first time fragments from old issues of Nineveh, 1977–, a quarterly publication in Modern Assyrian and English donated to Rakowitz’s studio by the Assyrian Foundation of America). Having been exhibited in cities across the United States (the Iraqi-American artist lives in Chicago), such materials provide moments of Arab cultural visibility beyond oil and war."

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