Chicago based conceptual artist, Michael Rakowitz is an Iraqi-American whose practice is characterized by his symbolic interventions in problematic urban situations.
His works include the series paraSITE (1998), seen in Boston, Baltimore and New York, in which he built customized, inflatable shelters for the homeless using a mere budget of $5.00 for plastic bags and waterproof tape for each project; and Return (2004), a collaboration with Creative Time, for which Rakowitz reopened his grandfather’s import and export business, Davison’s & Co., which first operated in Baghdad and then relocated to New York when his family was exiled in 1946. Rakowitz’s resurrected family business offered free shipping to Iraq three months after the U.S. declared stifling trade restrictions on the country.
The 2011 work, Spoils, took a provocative and personal approach to American-Iraqi relations. Housed at Park Avenue Autumn restaurant in New York City, the “culinary/art experience” provided patrons with rich traditional Iraqi dishes served on rare pieces of fine China from Saddam Hussein’s personal collection. More surprising than the sensory tensions experienced by each diner, notably the contrast between the “sweetness of the Iraqi date syrup, and the…bitter provenance of the dishware,” was the dramatic conclusion of the project. A cease-and-desist letter from the State Department calling for the “surrender” of the platesabruptly ended Spoils, and resulted in their return to Iraqi territory. It was, according to Rakowitz, a “kind of perfect” ending to the project.
Open Year Round: