There is a certain sadness that comes with the destruction of anything. I hate to see books destroyed, as they contain wisdom. Buildings which are abandoned or left in a state of disrepair give the feeling of loss, and I especially hate seeing art destroyed; no matter how good or bad the artwork, that was someone’s vision and they most likely put their heart and soul in to it. It is even more upsetting when ancient artworks are obliterated through the actions of war. As a species we are so creative, but also so self annihilative, never seemingly content with accepting the way we are, and each party involved thinking that they are the people in the right while the other side are heinous criminals against humanity. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain despots out there who need to be stopped, as they would create a world of madness…but for people like me, war is a seemingly endless vicious circle. I don’t know how we expect to solve anything through blowing entire countries and their citizens to pieces, this causes more hatred and bad feeling and feeds a need for revenge within those wronged.
I think it is particularly poignant that the newest piece to don the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is a reproduction of a statue which was destroyed in 2015 by ISIS in Iraq, as an act of cultural terrorism and to provoke people in the west.
Rakowitz has recreated the image of lamassu, a protective deity with the head of a man (is often represented as a woman), body of a bull and wings of an eagle. The sculpture has been created out of 10,500 empty date syrup cans. Dates were one of the biggest exports from Iraq prior to two gulf wars, and the artist has used this material as a recognition of the disappearing industry as well as a nod to his own family history; his families immigration and his grandfather’s import and export business. The cans are also symbolic of the deity’s image being reborn from everyday items, and being part of the fabric of everyday life. The colours used bring to mind a richness from Iraq’s culture, which I think we in today’s climate, fail to recognise. The title of the piece allude to missing artefacts and destroyed sculptures after the many attacks during several wars. A culture being depleted from an enemy which they cannot see.
Rakowitz says about his piece “I think the impetus to rebuild is indicative of something good in the human spirit but I think of the things that I make as being ghosts or apparitions of what the artefacts were.”
The statue also serves as a reminder of a rich, if not troubled relationship between the UK and Iraq. Despite the trauma which has come to pass between the two countries, the artist wanted to recognise this historic and complex relationship.
The lamassu have been depicted since around 3000 BC from Assyrian descent, and sculptures of the deity were placed at entrances to homes and palaces as a guardian. The imagery symbolises the strength of the bull, the freedom of the eagle and the wisdom of man. These can be considered close relative in broad terms to the sphinx in terms of being a guardian protector.
The British 10th Army, which operated in Iraq and Iran in 1942–1943, adopted the Lamassu as its insignia. A bearded man with a winged bull body appears on the logo of the United States Forces.
We can even see reference to this godly creature in books and films – At the point of Aslan’s sacrifice in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, one appears at the sacrificial table and in the film Alexander (2004), lamassu are seen at the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, so while you may think that this mythological creature has not crossed your path before, there are plenty of examples where it probably has, and you haven’t realised.
Personally I think that this is a welcome change to the “Giant Thumb” which was on the fourth plinth previously. I saw this, and while a very well sculpted and cast piece, I think I may have missed the point of it a little. Ratowitz sculpture brings to life a richness of culture and a very personal message displayed in a beautifully colourful way.
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