Rising from the ruins: Michael Rakowitz on rebuilding an ancient palace razed by Isis

Watch the Iraqi-American artist discuss fighting cultural erasure with food packaging

Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, 8,000 artifacts went missing from the National Museum in Baghdad – an event widely regarded, recalls Michael Rakowitz, as a ‘loss for all of humanity’. Since 2007, the Chicago-based artist has been painstakingly recreating these lost artworks one at a time, using the packaging of Middle Eastern convenience food available in the US. Following Isis’s offensive in Iraq, he began to use the same technique to remake objects from the archeological sites the Islamists destroyed, the banality of the wrappers mapping a contemporary Iraqi experience in stark contrast with the one broadcast by mainstream media.

The series is collectively titled 'The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist', and its latest piece was presented in the Unlimited sector of Art Basel’s 2018 edition in Basel. For Room N, Northwest Palace of Nimrud (2018), Rakowitz reproduced the reliefs of the Assyrian Palace of Nimrud, which were reduced to rubble by fighters of the self-proclaimed Caliphate in 2016. In this exclusive interview, the artist talked to Art Basel about rescuing an Iraqi heritage endangered by the war.

Alongside his presentation in the Unlimited sector, Michael Rakowitz was in conversation with Chus Martínez, Curator and Head of Basel’s Art Institute HGK FHNW for the Premier Artist Talk, held at the 2018 Basel edition of Art Basel.