On the Four Plinth

The New York-born artist Michael Rakowitz, now based in Chicago, has won the next commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. His winning sculpture The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (right) represents the thousands of archaeological artefacts looted from the Iraq Museum during the Iraq War, or destroyed in its aftermath.

Rakowitz will recreate the Lamassu, a winged bull and protective deity that stood at the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Nineveh from circa 700 BC. In 2015 it was destroyed by ISIS along with other artefacts in Mosul Museum. The new Lamassu will be made of Iraqi date syrup cans, representative of a once-renowned industry ruined by the Iraq wars.

As Rakowitz explains: 'The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is a project I began in 2007. The centerpiece is a commitment to reconstruct the more than 7000 objects listed as missing, stolen, damaged or destroyed during the looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003. I've since expanded the work to include artefacts destroyed by ISIS, like the Lamassu that stood at the Nergal Gate in Nineveh, and which I will be remaking in Trafalgar Square.

'To have this work displayed on the Fourth Plinth will be especially meaningful. It's the first time this project has been situated in a public space, and it's happening when we are witnessing a massive migration of people fleeing Iraq and Syria. I see this work as a ghost of the original, and as a placeholder for those human lives that cannot be reconstructed, that are still searching for sanctuary.'

An inscription that was found on the back of the original Lamassu at the Nergal Gate read: 'Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, had the inner and outer wall of Nineveh built anew and raised as high as mountains.'

By chance, the Fourth Plinth is roughly 14 feet high – the same height as the original Lamassu that stood at the entrance to Nineveh. By placing the sculpture in Trafalgar Square, Rakowitz feels that it will continue to act as a guardian of Nineveh's past, present and future, even as a refugee or ghost, hoping one day to return to Iraq.

Another parallel is that as the Lamassu is made from recycled packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs, it echoes how the reliefs at the base of Nelson's Column were made from canons salvaged from the wreck of HMS Royal George.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, which will be the 12th piece of sculpture to appear on the Fourth Plinth since the commissioning programme began in 1998, will be unveiled in 2018.

Michael Rakowitz's other work explores global issues inviting conversations fostered by his public projects, installations and events. (www.michaelrakowitz.com)
Lindsay Fulcher