David Shrigley’s big thumb has handed the famed plinth over to this winged god. We find out where it came from, what it is and what it wants.
It started with looting
Among the countless victims and losses of the Iraq war was a museum in the capital city, Baghdad. The National Museum of Iraq was looted as the war kicked off in 2003. Thousands of treasures were lost or destroyed there and at archaeological sites around the country. Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz is trying to recreate 7,000 of them as part of a series called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’, of which this big beastie is one.
It’s a man/lion/bull deity
A lamassu is a kind of winged Assyrian god with the head of a man and the body of a lion or a bull. These deities acted as protectors of homes and cities, and the one Rakowitz is recreating here had stood at the Nergal Gate in the city of Nineveh since 700 BC until being destroyed by Isis in 2015.
It wants syrup (maybe)
Rakowitz’s hugely ambitious series isn’t about doing exact replicas of these destroyed and looted items. This one, for example, replaces the original stone with…date syrup cans. Before the war, date syrup was a huge industry in Iraq, an industry which – like the archaeological artefacts of the country – has been left in ruins by conflict. Rakowitz’s sculpture manages to draw attention to the ravages of war, and the place of Western countries in that decimation, in all their multifaceted misery.
Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ will be in place for two years.