Critics’ Picks

Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Room G-24) (detail), 2019, Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers, glue, and cardboard on wood.

Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud, Room G-24) (detail), 2019, Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers, glue, and cardboard on wood.

Malmö

Michael Rakowitz

Malmö Konsthall
St Johannesgatan 7
September 14–November 17, 2019

“Destroy the past, and you can control the future,” reads a quote by Tom Holland on a small sign installed at ankle level inside of the Malmö Konsthall. Along with the maxim comes a description of collection item #BM 124565: “panel with seated king and attendant.” I see no such frieze in the space, where most of the walls are naked. #BM 124586, “panel with apkallu,” was excavated from the palace of Nimrud in northern Iraq in 1846 and acquired a year later by the British Museum. #MRAH O.0278 (“fragment middle section of tree”) went to Brussels.

Similar signs, with quotations drawn from accounts of cultural heritage and loss, appear insistently along the gallery walls, suggesting a silent baseline of deprivation. The palace, their connecting point of reference, fell into ruin after a 2015 ISIS attack. Only a few figures remain on its former grounds; they are represented here, by Michael Rakowitz, in the form of colorful replicas rising toward the ceiling. With its partially absent, partially rebuilt frieze, Rakowitz’s series of bas-reliefs “Room G, Northwest Palace of Nimrud,” 2018–19, sketches a one-to-one-scale cultural imaginarium and memorial, inscribed by centuries of colonization. Using food packaging from the Middle East as his main sculptural material, Rakowitz folds present-day trade sanctions into his consideration of the historical transfer of goods.

Ever since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Rakowitz has confronted the reactionary, conflicting combination of neo-Nazism and Islamophobia in his two homelands––America and Iraq. By making plain the logistics of cultural extraction, he rewrites colonial inscriptions by means of daily consumption and communication.