The invisible enemy should not exist
Drawings, cardboard and newspaper
sculptures, museum labels, sound
Lombard Freid Projects, NY (2007)
Sharjah Biennial (2007)
Istanbul Biennial (2007)
Galerie Sfeir Semler, Beirut (2008)
Hessel Art Museum (2008)
Modern Art Oxford (2009)
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (2013)
and other venues
The invisible enemy should not exist unfolds as an intricate narrative about the artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad, in the aftermath of the US invasion of April 2003; the current status of their whereabouts; and the series of events surrounding the invasion, the plundering and related protagonists. The centerpiece of the project is an ongoing series of sculptures that represent an attempt to reconstruct the looted archeological artifacts.
The title of the exhibition takes its name from the direct translation of Aj-ibur-shapu, the ancient Babylonian processional way that ran through the Ishtar Gate. Drawings tell the story of how the gate was excavated in Iraq in 1902-14 by German archeologist Robert Koldewey and then put on permanent exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. In the 1950s, the Iraqi government rebuilt the gate; close by stands a reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon, created by Saddam Hussein as a monument to his own sovereignty. Today the reconstructed Ishtar Gate is the site most frequently photographed and posted on the Internet by US servicemen stationed in Iraq.
Alluding to the implied invisibility of the museum artifacts—initial reports about their looting were inflated due to the “fog of war,” stated Museum officials—the reconstructions are made from the packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs and local Arabic newspapers, moments of cultural visibility found in cities across the United States. The objects were created together with a team of assistants using the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute database, as well as information posted on Interpol’s website. This exhibition represents the incipient stage of an ongoing commitment to recuperate the over 7,000 objects that remain missing.
The museum label for each reconstructed artifact lists its museum number, provenance, and other identifying facts. Replacing the narrative information about each lost object are quotes from Iraqi archeologists, American military commanders, and others reacting to the looting, resulting in a fragmented dialogue across the display table.
Subsequent iterations of The invisible enemy should not exist have been presented with new groupings of artifacts as more and more are reconstructed. Wherever possible, the artifacts are arranged by a local archeologist, researcher, or curator of Mesopotamian antiquities. Here is Dr. Michael Seymour, Researcher in the Department of the Middle East at The British Museum arranging the artifacts exhibited at Modern Art Oxford in April, 2009.
Other drawings reveal the narrative of Dr. Donny George, former Director of the National Museum in Baghdad, who worked to recover looted artifacts. Under Hussein, Dr. George worked at archeological sites to avoid Ba’ath Party meetings and also sidelined as a drummer in the band 99%, which specialized in Deep Purple covers. A version of their “Smoke on the Water,” commissioned from NY-based Arabic band Ayyoub, provides sound for the show. After threats to his family, Dr. George resigned his post, fleeing to Syria. He arrived recently in the US as a Visiting Professor of Anthropology at SUNY Stony Brook.