There is poetry in exile. The disruptive nature of wartime and revolution has launched a thousand narratives; to long for a homeland that once birthed then rejected you is a bittersweet paradox. What to make of this rejection, how to remember where you came from, and is it truly fair to think of ever going back, once you have claimed ground elsewhere? The internationally celebrated Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz was marked with this paradox from the beginning.
Born to Iraqi-Jewish parents in the United States and raised in Great Neck on Long Island, he grew up in the same house as his mother when her parents settled in America. Emigrating from Iraq via India in 1946, Rakowitz’s grandfather relocated his family to Long Island from Manhattan when a Syrian man told him that the leafy suburbs of the North Shore “were a great place to live.” Raised amidst anti-Semitism, Michael’s mother learned that Arabic was the language of secrets and would eventually raise her son in the same environment, eating the cuisine of Iraqi Jews, while his grandmother told fantastical, rose-coloured stories of old Baghdad.