The Nasher Sculpture Center presents two works by the 2020 Nasher Prize Laureate Michael Rakowitz, part of his series of sculptures The invisible enemy should not exist and his film The Ballad of Special Ops Cody. The works each examine the connection between present-day conflicts in the Middle East and the ancient history of the region.
The invisible enemy should not exist
Michael Rakowitz’s ongoing project The invisible enemy should not exist began in 2007 as a response to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in 2003. For the series, he creates placeholders or “ghosts” for the 15,000 artifacts that were lost or stolen made out of materials that reference objects often embedded in Iraqis’ daily lives, including Arabic newspaper, date syrup cans, and Iraqi food packaging. These materials—particularly the date syrup, which is now scarcely produced due to the decimation of Iraqi date palms—turn viewers’ attention towards the many lives lost as a result of the Iraq War alongside the country’s ancient history and vital resources.
The works on view in the Nasher Corner Gallery are a continuation of this project, one which involves recreating reliefs from the Northwest Palace of Nimrud that was destroyed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in 2015. The Nasher installation conjures the footprint of Room F, section 1 in the palace through six panels presenting reimagined versions of gypsum reliefs.
The Ballad of Special Ops Cody
In this stop-motion film, Michael Rakowitz places a US soldier—represented by a doll called Special Ops Cody, of a kind sold to soldiers on US bases in Iraq and Kuwait—in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago where he wanders, encountering Assyrian antiquities akin to the looted artifacts recreated in The invisible enemy should not exist. Throughout his journey through the Institute, Special Ops Cody discusses the death of Iraqi civilians at the hands of US military forces and implores the artifacts to escape their vitrines and leave the museum.