Sparkling turquoise streams fed by a mighty aqueduct, lush rows of variegated trees and shrubs: a bearded Assyrian king, in a red-andgold hilltop palace, surveys his paradisiacal gardens.
This ancient scene, captured in recycled-cardboard-and-foil relief on a monumental wood panel, forms the centrepiece of The Waiting Gardens of the North, Michael Rakowitz’s inspiring installation. This transforms the sky-lit top gallery of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in north-east England into a fragrant greenhouse — a fount of memory and a catalyst for human exchange.
Chicago-based Rakowitz, whose Iraqi-Jewish maternal grandparents fled Baghdad in 1946, is best known for the Assyrian winged bull that occupied Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in 2018- 20. Rather as this hybrid lamassu “reappeared” a sculpture destroyed in 2015 by Isis, Baltic’s entrancing panel reimagines a gypsum wall relief chiselled by 19th-century archaeologists from the North Palace of Nineveh (today’s Mosul in northern Iraq), and now in the British Museum. It depicts the gardens of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in the seventh century BC, which predated, and conceivably inspired, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The two gardens, built under two ancient empires, seeded Rakowitz’s collaborative project, commissioned by Baltic with the Imperial War Museums’ IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund. The £2.5mn partnership programme supports UK art exploring the heritage of conflict.