Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz suggested in a letter to The British Museum that she returned one of her ancient Assyrian treasures to Iraq in return for donating his fourth sculpture to the United Kingdom.
Rakowitz’s contemporary interpretation of the Assyrian winged bull, known as A lamassudecorated in cans of date syrup, appeared on the base In Trafalgar Square from 2018 to 2020.
He agreed in principle to gift the statue to the Tate Modern on the grounds that it shared custody with Iraq. But he said, as part of the deal, the British Museum should return one of the two Assyrian lamassu gnomeswhich was discovered in Nineveh by the Victorian archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard.
Returning one of these treasures, Rakowitz said, would help replace 700 B.C lamassuWhich was standing at the gate of Nirgal in Nineveh. He was left in place by Layard however deliberately destroyed Islamic State militants in a raid on the Mosul Museum in 2015. Rakowitz’s proposal is expected to be on the agenda for a visit to London next month by Iraq’s new culture minister, Ahmed Faqqaq, when he is expected to be given a tour of London. The British Museum.
In a letter to the British Museum, offering the deal, Rakowitz said: “As I was thinking of my gift to the nation of Great Britain, I began to imagine that it might be accompanied by a second gift: the return of a British museum.” lamassu to a country IraqTo replace what ISIS destroyed [or Islamic State]”.
The letter went on: “In view of all that has been destroyed in Iraq, and that destruction intersected with the West’s insatiable appetite for the things of the East, while not always, if not at all, this concern extends to its people, this return of the original will be more than a response. It will be reformist.” “.
Rakowitz said the idea was initially rejected by the British Museum when it was first proposed in 2020. He was told the museum had helped produce replicas of the originals. Rakowitz said, “I thought to myself, ‘This is fucking crazy. Where is the dignity of bringing back these things that are basically a veneer of the original?’”
But since then, other experts at the museum have been more sympathetic, Rakowitz claimed. He said: “I’ve generally had a good relationship with some people in the British Museum, who are unsettled by the general attitude that things can’t come back. Discussions and demands are about hacking through some of the language that protects these objects and institutions.”
Rakowitz said Tate Modern He was also lobbying behind the scenes to try and make it happen. He said: “The Tate has informally agreed that they will pressure the British Museum to return one lamassu. Tate’s leadership was very sympathetic to her.”
When he contacted officials with the Iraqi State Council for Antiquities and Heritage about showing his sculptures, Rakowitz said they were eager to see the ancient ruins. lamassu He returned to Iraq.
“They loved lamassuReferring to his work, he said, “But they also didn’t want to let the UK off the hook, and they wanted the real people back. London Now one lamassu Many of them need to go back to Iraq.”
Eleanor Robson, professor of ancient Middle Eastern history at University College London, said the British Museum appeared to be softening its stance on returning the treasures to their country of origin, amid discussions about The future of the Parthenon Marbles. “The mood of the music seems to change,” she said.
Robson, who is also the chief investigator for the Two Rivers Network On cultural recovery in post-conflict Iraq and hosting Al Faqaq’s visit, he said: “Renovating the Mosul Museum is high on his agenda – it was badly damaged by ISIS. There is a lot of planning around what could happen inside it. One possibility is that Michael lamassu He may come and visit. It will be for the minister to decide.”
It is not clear if the minister will push for the original version lamassu To be returned to Iraq.
Robson added, “It’s good to have people like Michael, who come in to stir things up and spark discussion.”
The British Museum will not be obligated to hand over either Lamoso To Iraq, but did not rule out loan deals. A company spokesperson said: “We have been closely involved in supporting Iraqi requests for replicas lamassu for the exterior of the University Library in Mosul, and more recently the Basra Museum, where we have been working in partnership for more than a decade. Future collaborations may include exhibition collaborations and loans, which the museum welcomes.”