Dates, 700 BC to the present: Michael Rakowitz
Cover Story, April 2018
As Michael Rakowitz’s fourth plinth commission is unveiled in London’s Trafalgar Square, this month’s cover story image revisits Return (2004-ongoing) a related project by the artist that also speaks about the turbulent history of Iraq. And dates. In London, Michael has deployed thousands of date syrup cans to make a 1:1 scale recreation of Lamassu, the fantastic winged bull that graced the gates of the city of Nineveh from 700 BC until it was destroyed by Isis in 2015.
As part of a project organised by Creative Time in 2006, the artist reopened his grandfather’s New York import-export store. (His ancestors were exiled from Iraq in 1946 and settled in the United States.) Overcoming bureaucracy and prejudice, the plan was to bring Iraqi dates to the US for the first time in over forty years. Michael took the time to make an extensive and insightful interview with Peter Eleey, now curator at MoMA Ps1, as part of UOVO 14 (titled ‘Ecology, Luxury & Degradation’), the journal issue that Latitudes guest edited in summer 2007. The store initially opened selling Californian dates derived from Iraqi seed, a box of which we see in all their plumpness in this image. Yet as the artist recalls in the interview, after many administrative hurdles he eventually “received four different types: Azraq, Ashrase, Ibraheme, and Kheyara, which was voted the best date in all of Iraq in 2005... I can attest, without any emotional bias, that these dates were the best I had ever tasted in my life... The dates suddenly became a surrogate, traveling the same path as Iraqi refugees”. You can read the full interview here.
Michael also spoke about this endeavour, as well as The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, the project of which the London monument is the latest chapter, in a seminar he led during the symposium Latitudes put together for the 8th Sharjah Biennial in April 2007. There is a saying that every Iraqi has a date in their genes. With its date palm industry as well as its ancient cultural treasures decimated by conflict, Iraq imparts a bitter-sweet taste to Michael’s compelling work.