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Michael Rakowitz Recreates Statue Destroyed By ISIS for London's Fourth Plinth

An ancient statue of a human-headed winged bull that was ravaged by ISIS in Iraq has been recreated by the American conceptual artist Michael Rakowitz for the famous Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. The commission, titled The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, was unveiled on Tuesday and is made of more than ten thousand empty cans of date syrup, which was a major export in Iraq before war uprooted the industry. The original Assyrian artifact, which portrayed the mythological deity Lamassu and guarded the ancient city of Nineveh, was created in 700 BCE and was defaced by ISIS militants in February 2015 as part of the group’s campaign to destroy the region's cultural heritage. 

Rakowitz, whose Iraqi Jewish grandparents emigrated from Iraq in 1946, told the New York Times that his work was “a placeholder for the thousands of human lives that have gone missing and can’t be reconstructed.” The artist, who is forty-four, has explored Middle Eastern themes throughout his career and is known for engaging, sometimes controversially, with found or everyday materials in his practice.

Rakowitz’s piece was announced as a winner last year, along with British artist Heather Phillipson's sculpture The End, which will occupy the Fourth Plinth—a free public art project in front of the National Gallery that is run by the mayor of London—in 2020.