Thousands of cans of date syrup constitute London’s fourth plinth – the result of a commission by Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz entitled The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist. The recreation of a 700 BCE Assyrian artefact destroyed by Daesh (often referred to as ISIS) references the deity Lamassu, a human headed bull with wings who guarded the ancient city of Nineveh, was made with the Iraqi export good key to its economy prior to two successive Gulf Wars which have ravaged the region. It is also a nod to Rakowitz’s personal background, as his family immigrated to the US in the 1940s but maintained ties to Iraq due to their import-export business.
Destroyed by Daesh in February 2015 as part of their efforts to eliminate Iraq’s cultural heritage, Rakowitz’s take on the ancient work installed in Trafalgar Square acts as a placeholder for erased histories and narratives and a defiant stand on global terror. The piece, positioned to face south east towards its original home, is in line with the political and contentious themes his body of works explore, typically through found or everyday objects. He is currently working on a project to recreate the 7000 items looted from Iraq’s National Museum in 2003.
The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist was the winning project proposal – along with artist Heather Phillipson’s The End – from an open public art project backed by the Mayor of London, Culture, since 1999 to feature rotating art works and installations on the fourth plinth in the front of the National Gallery until 2020. Of the 12 total works, notable previous works on the fourth plinth have included a vivid blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch (2013-15), Antony Gormley’s One & Other in 2009, and Mark Wallinger’s statue of Ecce Homo, which inaugurated the space in 1999.