LONDON: An ancient Iraqi statue that was destroyed by Daesh but has been recreated in the heart of the UK capital is proving a talking point for residents and visitors.
The sculpture, called “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist,” is a life-size replica of a 2,700-year-old lamassu, an Assyrian deity in the form of winged bull with a human head that stood guard at the entrance to Nergal Gate in Nineveh, near present-day Mosul in Iraq.
Daesh militants smashed the original to pieces in 2015, but it has now been recreated by Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz, using recycled cans that contained another treasure from Iraq — date syrup.
The replica now occupies the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square and, 24 hours after its unveiling, was attracting a throng of admirers.
“It’s quite impressive,” said Oliver Bishop, 45, who works for an energy company and had braved a heavy downpour to view the new sculpture during his lunch break. “It represents something of great historic value that was destroyed and it’s a nice gesture to preserve it in London because many people might not have heard about the destruction of art that is going on in Iraq.”
“I really like it,” said retired teacher Richard Mills, 60, who was eagerly taking photographs of the sculpture. “I’ve seen the original plans this was chosen from and it’s a good choice. (We need) to keep the idea present in our memories of what’s happening in Iraq. It’s colorful, and on a sunny day it will be striking.”
The sculpture was chosen from a shortlist of six and is part of a larger project by Rakowitz. The Chicago-based artist is gradually reconstructing the entire database of 7,000 works looted from the National Museum of Iraq in 2003 or destroyed at archaeological sites in the aftermath of the Iraq war.
“It is great to remind people of the terrible destruction of artworks. We will never get them back,” said office manager Eve Thompson, 66. “And this sculpture fits in very well in Trafalgar Square.”
Joe Wills, a 37-year-old musician, was moved by the lamassu’s cladding — a covering made from 10,500 tin cans that once contained one of Iraq’s most valuable products, date syrup.
“This ancient work of art was destroyed because of war and the date industry from modern-day Iraq has also been damaged because of war,” he said.
Britain’s part in that war, beginning with the invasion in 2003, must be acknowledged, he said.
“It’s important to bring it back to the action that this country has been involved in and to show the impact of what has been going on.”
Despite heavy rain, people crowded around the plinth to read the plaque explaining how the statue was created and what it represents. Rakowitz had watched footage of the original being destroyed by Daesh. The looting and wanton destruction were a key point in the war, he said.
“It didn’t matter if you were for or against the war, we could agree that this was a catastrophe. It wasn’t simply a local Iraqi loss but a loss for the whole of humanity.”
The ancient treasure of Nineveh and Trafalgar Square seem fated to come together. Researching archaeological sketches, Rakowitz discovered the length of the lamassu was exactly the same as Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, which has showcased a rolling program of contemporary art since 2003. His tin-can statue will stay on the site for two years.
However, the sculptor’s vision found little favor with Mohammed Shehab Ahmed, 66, a surgeon who has lived in Britain for 20 years but is originally from Basra.
“Is this supposed to make me feel better about the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in Iraq?” he asked. “I appreciate the gesture by the artist to try to preserve this element of my country’s ancient culture, but it gives me no solace.”
However, Joe Wills viewed the statue as an optimistic symbol. “It represents the positivity of the human spirit, how the good things we do can outlast our more destructive, negative impulses,” he said.