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Looted artefacts are reborn as ‘ghosts’ in an artist’s protest against colonisation

As a child, the US artist Michael Rakowitz was visiting the British Museum in London when his mother, who is of Iraqi-Jewish heritage, asked him a troubling question: why were priceless Assyrian artefacts displayed here, of all places? Rakowitz’s ensuing epiphany – that ‘it was a museum, but it was also a crime palace’ – has informed his work as an artist ever since. This short documentary details how Rakowitz is inspired by his desire to make Western institutions confront colonisation as both a historical and a contemporary reality. The film focuses on his project ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ (2006-), work on which was still ongoing during the COVID-19 lockdown. Calling his artworks ‘ghosts’ that have returned to haunt the halls of Western museums, Rakowitz and staff from his studio recreate artefacts looted from the National Museum of Iraq after the US invasion in 2003, as well as archeological sites subsequently destroyed by ISIS. ‘In this moment when we’ve lost the close proximity to one another,’ Rakowitz says, ‘we’re making these lost objects … where we can locate one another and feel like we’re not alone.’

Video by Art21

Producer: Ian Forster

23 March 2021

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