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  • Jan 20, 2017

Michael Rakowitz, Raqs Media Collective and Huma Bhabha Shortlisted for Fourth Plinth Commission

London’s National Gallery announced on January 19 that Iraqi-American artist, Michael Rakowitz, Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective and Huma Bhabha from Pakistan, are among the five artists shortlisted for the 2018 and 2020 Fourth Plinth commission in Trafalgar Square. The two winners will be announced in March.

The Fourth Plinth commission program invites leading artists to make sculptures for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, which was built in 1841 but remained empty due to insufficient funds. Led by the mayor of London’s cultural team, the program commissioned its first sculpture in 2005.

Rakowitz’s proposal, currently on view in the “Fourth Plinth Shortlist Exhibition” at the National Gallery, features a Lamassu, an 8th century BC winged bull-like figure and protective deity that once stood at the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Nineveh, Iraq, until February 2015 when it was destroyed by ISIS. Measuring roughly 4.3 meters, the same size as the original sculpture, the work will be made from empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The work not only pays tribute to a once-renowned date exporting industry decimated by the Iraq War (2003–11), but uses found materials in the same way that the reliefs at the base of Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square’s iconic monument commemorating war hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, were made from canons salvaged from the wreck of HMS Royal George.

Rebuilding the Assyrian sculpture in Trafalgar Square means that it can once again perform its duties as guardian of Nineveh’s past, present and future, with the hope the work will one day make it to Iraq. Rakowitz’s Lamassu is part of the artist’s ongoing project “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” (2006– ). The decade-long project attempts to recreate over 7,000 archeological artifacts looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the war or subsequently destroyed in its aftermath and epitomizes the artist’s practice, which is largely concerned with history and current events. Drawing on his Iraqi-Jewish heritage, which features prominently in many of his works, Rakowitz's practice explores pressing issues and invites others into conversations fostered by his public projects, installations and events. 

Meanwhile, Huma Bhabha’s untitled proposal features one of her mixed-media figures; the enormity of the sculpture recalling a “modern comic sci-fi movie,” as noted by the project’s organizers. The trio Raqs Media Collective’s The Emperor’s Old Clothes, on the other hand, shows a hallowed out figurative sculpture, which explores how the notion of power can simultaneously be present and absent.

British artist Heather Phillipson and Damián Ortega from Mexico are the two other artists vying for the 2018 and 2020 commissions. Past Fourth Plinth commissions have been awarded to artists such as David Shrigley (2016–present), Hans Haacke (2015–16), Antony Gormley (2009) and Marc Quinn (2005–07). 

Fourth Plinth Shortlist Exhibition” is on display at the National Gallery, London, through March 26, 2017.

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