Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West

  • An architectural arched gateway is shown, installed within a modern gallery space. The arch is made from bricks in a range of different blues with golden yellow accents and decorated with stylized animals.
An architectural arched gateway is shown, installed within a modern gallery space. The arch is made from bricks in a range of different blues with golden yellow accents and decorated with stylized animals.
Michael Rakowitz, May the Arrogant Not Prevail, 2010. Found Arabic packaging and newspapers, glue, cardboard, and wood; 235 ¼ x 194 ¼ x 37 ½ in. (597.5 × 493.4 × 95.3 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Marshall Field’s by exchange, 2015.4. Image courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise?, 2012. Bamiyan travertine, glass, vitrines, bullets, shrapnel, meteorites, Libyan desert glass, trinitite, fragments of the destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and books burned during the WWII. Commissioned and produced for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan, with the support of the Dena Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris, and Lombard Fried Projects, New York. Photo: Roman März, courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise?, 2012. Bamiyan travertine, glass, vitrines, bullets, shrapnel, meteorites, Libyan desert glass, trinitite, fragments of the destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and books burned during the WWII. Commissioned and produced for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan, with the support of the Dena Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris, and Lombard Fried Projects, New York. Photo © Rosa Maria Ruehling, courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Michael Rakowitz, Bearded Male with Long Hair, Missing Eye (Kh. VIII 269) (Recovered, Missing, Stolen Series), 2009. From the series The Invisible enemy should not exist, 2007–present. Middle Eastern packaging and newspapers and glue; 15 7/10 × 4 7/10 × 1 3/5 in. (40 × 12 × 4 cm). Courtesy of Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago. Photo: Nick Ash.
Michael Rakowitz, Enemies and Kitchens, 2012. Mixed media installation; overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Lombard Freid Projects, the Smart Museum of Art, and Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Photo: Michael Tropea, courtesy of the Smart Museum of Art and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

About

Based in Chicago, Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz (b. 1973) makes work that explores recent contested social, political, and cultural histories. Drawing on personal experiences and research on these subjects, as well as history and popular culture, Rakowitz creates illustrated objects, installations, and performances that invite viewers to contemplate their complicit relationship to the political world around them, recognizing that hospitality and hostility are interlinked.

The artist’s first-ever museum survey features early works, a new commission, and major installations, such as Enemy Kitchen (2003–ongoing), a pop-up food truck that serves Iraqi dishes made from recipes that Rakowitz and his mother collected through workshops and extensive community liaisons. Also on view are Spoils (2011), a project that saw the artist serve Iraqi date syrup and venison on Saddam Hussein’s very own china, and The invisible enemy should not exist (2007–ongoing), a lifelong project to fabricate at full scale every single item looted from the Iraqi National Museum. The exhibition also includes a portion of Rakowitz’s commission for Documenta 13, What Dust Will Rise? (2012), for which he worked with stone carvers to re-create items from the State Library of Hesse-Kassel that were lost in the 1941 fire of the Fridericianum, using stone quarried from the ruins of sixth-century sandstone Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

The title of the exhibition, Backstroke of the West, is a mistranslation of Revenge of the Sith, which was used for a Chinese bootleg version of the film and likely gleaned from a program such as Google Translate. The title speaks to Rakowitz's interest in translation as a means of traversing social and political boundaries as well as how popular culture can be used to access shared cultural narratives.

Collectively, this exhibition tells a story of restitution and reconstitution and positions Rakowitz as one of the most important artists of our time.

The exhibition is organized by Omar Kholeif, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It is presented in the Bergman Family Gallery on the museum’s second floor.

Installation Images

Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Work shown: Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise?, 2012. Bamiyan travertine, glass, vitrines, bullets, shrapnel, meteorites, Libyan desert glass, trinitite, fragments of the destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and books burned during the Second World War; overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of Michael Rakowitz, Jane Lombard Gallery, Helyn Goldenberg & Michael Alper, Jane Lombard, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Rhona Hoffman, and Renée & Jude Waxman-Rakowitz. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Work shown: Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise?, 2012. Bamiyan travertine, glass, vitrines, bullets, shrapnel, meteorites, Libyan desert glass, trinitite, fragments of the destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and books burned during the Second World War; overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of Michael Rakowitz, Jane Lombard Gallery, Helyn Goldenberg & Michael Alper, Jane Lombard, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Rhona Hoffman, and Renée & Jude Waxman-Rakowitz. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Work shown: Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist, 2007–ongoing. Mixed-media installation; overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Jane Lombard Gallery, New York; Barbara Wein Gallery, Berlin; Jack and Sandra Guthman; Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross; Jane Lombard; and private collection. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Work shown: Michael Rakowitz, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own, 2009. Mixed-media installation; overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist; Jane Lombard Gallery, New York; and Princeton University Art Museum. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago, Sep 16, 2017–Mar 4, 2018. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Funding

Lead support for Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris; the Margot and W. George Greig Ascendant Artist Fund; R. H. Defares; Helen and Sam Zell; Anne L. Kaplan; and Cari and Michael Sacks.

Major support provided by Nancy and Steve Crown, Kovler Family Foundation, and Elissa Efroymson and Adnaan Hamid.

Generous support is provided by the Joyce Foundation, the Shulamit Nazarian Foundation, Jack and Sandra Guthman, The Fine Foundation, Helyn D. Goldenberg and Michael Alper, The Malkin Family, Paul Gray and Dedrea Armour Gray and Richard Gray Gallery, Vicki and Bill Hood, Melissa Weber and Jay Dandy, Lisa Yun Lee, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Barjeel Art Foundation, Jane Lombard Gallery, Sotheby’s, and Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross.