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Northwestern University
Photo: Gautier DeBlondeleft

Wings Over Trafalgar Square

The ghost of the Lamassu, an Assyrian statue that once guarded the gate to the ancient city of Nineveh in present-day Iraq, now haunts the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square in a very different form.

With the head of a man, wings of an eagle and body of a bull, the mythological creature was known for its protective qualities. Created in 700 BC, the sculpture was destroyed by ISIS in 2015 as the world watched with horror.

“It didn’t matter if you were for the war or against the war,” says Lamassu re-creator Michael Rakowitz, professor of art theory and practice. “This was something that everyone could agree was unacceptable and tragic.”

While the original was carved from limestone, Rakowitz and assistants made the new version from 10,500 empty Iraqi date-syrup cans affixed to a steel armature. The cans reference the country’s date-syrup industry, which was nearly destroyed by the Iraq wars and the resulting ecological devastation. They also recall the ancient Iraqi tradition of placing a date in the mouth of a newborn baby, to make sure its first taste of life is sweet.

Titled The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, the Lamassu is just one part of Rakowitz’s long-term project to reconstruct the 7,000 artifacts at the National Museum of Iraq that were stolen or damaged during the 2003 invasion, as well as those destroyed at archaeological sites and museums in the aftermath of the war. He sees his efforts as a way to acknowledge not only the destruction of artworks, but also the many lives lost in the war.

“I don’t ever want to say that I’m making doubles, because the orig­inals are lost forever — the same way that those people who perished during the war cannot be put back together again,” Rakowitz says.

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