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Michael Rakowitz: Haunting the West | Art21 "Extended Play"

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    I remember my mother bringing us 
    to the British Museum in London.
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    My mother's family was from Iraq.
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    She brought us immediately 
    to the Assyrian galleries
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    and into the room that had 
    the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal.
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    There's nothing cooler than being ten years old 
    and learning that this is the first comic book
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    and your people are responsible for it.
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    She turned to us and she said,
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    "What is it doing here?"
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    Which made us keenly aware that
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    these museums were not just 
    these polite reliquaries
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    for things that have been 
    exchanged amongst cultures--
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    that these were violently extracted.
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    It was a museum, but it was also a crime palace.
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    [Michael Rakowitz: Haunting the West]
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    "The invisible enemy should not exist" is 
    this on-going work that I began in 2006.
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    In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
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    eight-thousand-plus artifacts were 
    looted from the National Museum of Iraq.
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    I started to think about what it would mean 
    for those artifacts to come back as ghosts
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    to haunt Western museums.
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    This project has unfortunately grown to include
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    the archaeological sites that have 
    been devastated by groups like ISIS.
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    This installation is Room F in 
    the northwest palace of Nimrud.
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    When it was destroyed in 2015,
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    it was holding two hundred reliefs.
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    However, it originally had over 
    six hundred of these reliefs.
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    The majority of those reliefs 
    were excavated in the mid-1800s
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    and then sent to different Western institutions.
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    The West assigns value on the 
    objects from that part of the world
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    but it's not at all symmetrical 
    when you consider the way in which
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    there's been this devaluation of the 
    people that are from those places.
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    The reliefs are situated in accordance 
    with the original architectural footprint.
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    What this project seeks to do is 
    put the viewer into the position
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    of an Iraqi inside that palace 
    the day before ISIS destroyed it,
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    and to show how much of their 
    history they didn't have access to,
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    and the gaps that they were forced 
    to be looking at and looking through.
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    These artifacts were also forcibly removed the 
    way that my family was from my mother's homeland.
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    My mother's family left Iraq in 1947
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    as the result of the emergence of 
    nationalist ideologies in the Middle East.
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    The Iraqi Jews were kind of 
    in an impossible situation.
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    When they entered the U.S., there must have 
    been all kinds of pressures to assimilate.
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    Their assimilation story was not 
    one where they gave everything up.
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    My grandparents were like the first 
    installation artists that I ever met.
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    The house in Great Neck, Long Island,
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    everything that was on the floor was from Iraq.
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    Everything this was on the walls was from Iraq.
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    And what was coming out of the 
    kitchen was most definitely from Iraq.
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    When I was in my senior year of high school,
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    the first Gulf War happened 
    in front of my brothers and I.
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    My mother said to us,
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    "Do you know there's no Iraqi 
    restaurants in New York?"
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    What she was pointing out was that Iraqi culture 
    in the U.S. was not visible beyond oil and war.
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    As we were approaching another Iraq war,
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    I started a project that I could 
    collaborate with my mother on.
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    That became "Enemy Kitchen."
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    My mother distributed our family's recipes
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    and I would cook with these different groups.
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    --Make a little crater,
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    --and then you take a piece of the meat here,
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    --put it in the center...
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    "Enemy Kitchen" offered some kind 
    of opposition to the way in which
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    the war framed everything 
    when we spoke about Iraq.
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    I always talk about the one that happened 
    in 2006 with a group of school kids.
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    The schools that they were going to 
    had forbade a lot of the teachers
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    from speaking about the war directly in 
    their classes because so many of them
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    were connected to brothers and uncles--
    and mothers and fathers--
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    who were stationed in Iraq.
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    It was so unbelievably violent that 
    nobody ever thought to ask them
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    what they thought of the war.
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    Now "Enemy Kitchen" is a food truck 
    that's staffed by Iraqi chefs.
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    The sous chefs and servers 
    are American combat veterans
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    that served in Iraq.
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    Those stories are now mobilized.
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    The color schemes that my 
    studio and I have chosen,
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    it's a little bit like the 
    color returning to the body.
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    So there's a whole range of different 
    materials that one sees represented.
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    The anise tea bags have created the yellowish 
    palette for the clothing of this "apkallu."
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    This is one of my favorite colors.
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    This orange is actually an 
    orange that I grew up with:
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    the outside packaging of an apricot paste.
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    It was like the original Fruit Roll-Up.
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    If a ghost is going to properly haunt,
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    it has to appear differently than the 
    entity appeared when it was living.
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    These reliefs use the packaging 
    of Middle Eastern food stuffs.
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    Because of Homeland Security, for 
    anything that is coming from Iraq,
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    it would be too prohibitive 
    for somebody to import it.
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    A can of date syrup labeled 
    as being "product of Lebanon"
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    is actually processed in the Iraqi capital
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    and then it's driven to Lebanon where 
    it gets sold to the rest of the world.
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    The object in the museum holds its value 
    because it can tell you where it was from.
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    The date syrup not being able to 
    tell you where they were from,
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    that was the skin that these 
    artifacts should have to wear
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    when they come back as ghosts.
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    There's more than eight thousand 
    artifacts that are still at large.
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    Of those, we've made just a bit over nine hundred.
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    This is a project that is going 
    to outlive me and my studio.
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    --Hey!
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    --Salaam!
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    [ASSISTANT] --How are you?
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    [ALL LAUGH]
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    [ASSISTANT]
    --I prepped some wing spines at my house.
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    [RAKOWITZ]
    --Oh, that's beautiful, Denise!
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    Once the studio went into lockdown 
    as a result of the pandemic,
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    I was very adamant about making sure that 
    everybody in the studio was going to be okay.
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    I wanted them to be able to continue to work.
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    The assistants come for a visit every few weeks
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    and they pick up more materials.
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    --I'm currently working on this funerary bust.
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    --I've just started working on an artifact 
    that was originally from eastern Iraq.
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    --This is a figure from Mesopotamia, 
    specifically from the Khafaje region.
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    In this moment where we've lost 
    the close proximity to one another
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    and we're making these lost objects,
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    we still have these moments 
    where we can locate one another
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    and feel like we're not alone.
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    When I was nominated in 2015 for 
    the Fourth Plinth project in London,
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    ISIS attacked Nineveh and Nimrud.
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    The "lamassu" were basically reduced to pebbles.
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    I recognized the fact that I was going to 
    be working in public space on a pedestal--
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    that this was the city of London,
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    the heart of empire--
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    and a very short walk away 
    brings one to the British Museum,
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    that I had visited with my mother decades before,
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    where they have several "lamassu."
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    The Tate Modern had reached out to me
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    about the possibility of them 
    serving as a custodian for this work.
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    I did not want to somehow just repeat these 
    imperial museums being seen as caretakers.
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    I wanted the work to be 
    shared by an Iraqi museum.
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    It kept the problems of where 
    something belongs alive.
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    A diasporic sculpture with wings,
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    moving between two places,
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    representing the conditions of modern Iraqis,
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    where there's no fixed place.
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    If we're to have conversations about 
    what decolonization truly looks like,
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    it's accompanied by repair
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    and it's accompanied by accountability.
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    That work is actually something that's never done.
Title:
Michael Rakowitz: Haunting the West | Art21 "Extended Play"
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
Art21
Proiect:
"Extended Play" series
Duration:
12:01

English subtitles

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