In his first solo show with his new gallery, Green Art, Dubai, Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz hones in on questions arising from his immigrant background, and the way that identity, migration, loss and history circle each other, like puzzle pieces that never quite slot into place.
Born in New York to a Jewish family that emigrated, on his mother's side, from Baghdad, Rakowitz's exhibition, The invisible enemy should not exist — in Dubai until November 23 — pays particular attention to coexistence between groups and faiths in the Middle East.
For Charita Baghdad, which premiered in Greece earlier this year and is now at Green Art, he reconstructs a 1936 Haggadah, or the set of instructions for the prayers and rituals of the Jewish Passover feast. This particular Haggadah, from 1936, was printed in Livorno, Italy for use in the Baghdadi Jewish community — the one Rakowitz’s maternal grandparents were from, and indeed the book is nearly identical to one in his grandfather’s possession.
Rakowitz scanned images of the pages, laying them out on a grid, side by side, contrasting the private, intimate aspect of the Haggadah, as a script for communal ritual, with the public display mode of the artwork.
The Hebrew instructions become icons to look at, complemented by splodges of wax and oil that tell the story of long-ago feasts and the tumult of enthusiastic or unsteady hands. Rakowitz’s own annotations and drawings embellish the pages, giving it, he says, a map-like form.