Green Art Gallery has announced that it has signed Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz to its stable. An exhibition of new works from the internationally well-regarded artist is scheduled for the autumn of 2022 at the gallery in Alserkal Avenue.
"It’s very exciting for us to work with Michael," says Yasmin Atassi, the director of Green Art. "His work provides an important and critical analysis on pressing issues both within the region and internationally. His Art Jameel retrospective in 2020 brought him to the region for the first time and we are looking forward to continuing that work.”
Rakowitz might be best described as a storyteller, wending new ideas and objects into ongoing works of art. He is open to complexity and complication: most notably, in relation to his own Iraqi identity.
Though his relationship to Iraq forms the basis of much of his artwork – which is about belonging, communities of knowledge, and loss – he has never been to the country. His grandfather, an Iraqi Jew, emigrated from Baghdad to New York in the 1940s, by way of India. He set up a date import/export business in Queens, which Rakowitz revived in 2006 for his first major project, Return.
Since then, Rakowitz has mined the ambiguous state of the diaspora, remaking Iraq’s heritage in brightly coloured papier-mache in a process he calls “reappearing”. When tasked to create the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, up from 2018 to 2020, he fashioned a beautiful Assyrian lamassu, or winged spirit, out of cans of date syrup from Iraq. The effect is of ephemeral, fragile, and slightly Pop works – fragments made out of everyday fragments – that exhibit a deep generosity towards the public.
Rakowitz, who says he lives in Chicago to deliberately avoid art centres, is also unafraid of controversy. In 2020, he switched off his video in Theatre of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011, MoMA PS1’s landmark show. The ceremonious action protested MoMA’s board chairman Leon Black whose companies have an investment in Blackwater, which Rakowitz and others deemed an unethical conflict of interest in relation to the institution’s hosting of the show.
The security contractor was behind the Nisour Square Massacre of 2007, in which Blackwater employees shot 17 members of the public in Baghdad. Rakowitz’s action precipitated a long-running campaign against the exhibition which broadly continues to this day.
The artist has a high profile in the UAE. Most recently, he had an acclaimed exhibition at the Jameel Arts Centre, which had travelled from the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Castello di Rivoli in Torino.
He was also prominently featured in the 2019 Sharjah Biennial, with his Ballad of Special Ops Cody (2017), a video about a US serviceman, in the form of a plastic doll, who tries to climb into a vitrine of Mesopotamian votive statues held at the Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago.
The representation of the well-known artist is a coup for Green Art Gallery, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020. It is Rakowitz’s first gallery in the Middle East.