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Michael Rakowitz, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, 2017

Maquette proposal for fourth plinth commission

Courtesy the Artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago

Photo by James O. Jenkins


"The fourth plinth work is an extension of The Invisible Enemy, which – along with drawings and a soundtrack – comprises a life-sized reconstruction of the more than 8,000 artefacts from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad that are missing, stolen, destroyed or of ‘status unknown’, after it was looted in 2003. That list has, unfortunately, grown to include the artefacts and archaeological sites that have been stolen or destroyed in Iraq since then. 

The project began when I was at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum in September 2006. I knew the Pergamon Altar was there, but I wasn’t aware they had the Ishtar Gate, too. When I saw the gate, I was completely blown away. I thought about why it was in Berlin, about the terms under which it was taken. The guidebook noted that the gate was the centrepiece of ancient Babylon, built around 575 BCE, and located on a processional way used during new year celebrations called The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist. It was the coolest street name I’d ever heard. And it was perfect because it spoke to this idea of the ‘phantom threat’: US President George W. Bush’s fabricated existence of weapons of mass destruction and the conflation of the 9/11 attacks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Babylonians would bring votive statues down this road to the temples. The statues, which often appear in collections of Mesopotamian art, are understood to have been surrogates for the worshippers. Those artefacts, now stolen, represent the dead. I saw how outrage over lost artefacts could become outrage for lost lives."

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