‘Guardian of Nineveh’: Iraqi statue destroyed by Daesh recreated, showcased in the heart of London

Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz poses in front of his sculpture ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London on Thursday after it was unveiled. (AFP)
Updated 30 March 2018

‘Guardian of Nineveh’: Iraqi statue destroyed by Daesh recreated, showcased in the heart of London

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.


Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

Updated 9 min 52 sec ago

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

  • Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before
  • Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island

ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in Monday at a Buddhist temple revered by his core Sinhalese nationalist supporters, following an election victory that triggered fear and concern among the island’s Tamil and Muslim minority communities.

Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before, seven months after deadly Islamist attacks rocked the country.

The former defense secretary is lauded by his majority Sinhala-Buddhist community for leading a no-holds-barred military campaign that crushed Tamil rebels and ended a 37-year separatist war in 2009 when his brother was president.

Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island.

He did so facing the temple’s stupa, which is the tallest in Sri Lanka and dates back more than two millennia.

The imposing structure is said to have been built by a Sinhalese king who is venerated by Sri Lanka’s Buddhists for vanquishing an invading south Indian Tamil ruler.
Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Saturday’s election saw the country’s Tamils, who account for about 15 percent of the population, vote overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa.

During his brother’s 2005-15 presidency Gotabaya had unfettered control over security forces, while “death squads” that abducted dozens of dissidents, opponents, journalists and others also allegedly reported to him.

Many people were never found again after being bundled into feared white vans, while some were killed and dumped by roadsides. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement.

He has resisted international calls to investigate the alleged war crimes.

At his only press conference during a three-month election campaign, Rajapaksa reiterated that he will not allow Sri Lankan troops to be tried by any war-crime tribunal, foreign or local.

He had also pledged to exonerate and free from prosecution the dozens of military personnel accused of abductions, extortion and killings during his brother’s decade in power.

In his brief acceptance speech at the announcement of the final election results on Sunday, Rajapaksa pledged to work for all Sri Lankans.

“I am the president of not only those who voted for me but also those who voted against me... irrespective of which race or religion they belong to,” Rajapaksa said.

“I am deeply committed to serve all the people of Sri Lanka.”

The island’s minority Tamils have been campaigning for greater autonomy in areas where they are concentrated.

Tamil youth took up arms in 1972 demanding a separate state and their violent guerilla campaign at its height saw them control a third of the country.

After being in opposition for nearly five years, the Rajapaksa family’s comeback came after the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and the powerful Buddhist clergy rallied behind them.

Rajapaksa formally announced his intention to run for the presidency just days after Islamist attacks on April 21 that killed 269 people, promising to protect the nation.

The Easter Sunday suicide bombings on three upscale hotels and three churches was carried out by a homegrown outfit from among Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It shocked the nation, and the world, just as Sri Lankan tourism was booming and as the nation prepared to celebrate a decade since the end of the Tamil separatist war.

Rajapakasa insisted that extremists would not have carried out any attacks if he had been in power. He blamed the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for weakening the intelligence apparatus he had built.