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Michael Rakowitz: Star Wars Meets Saddam
Tate Modern, Level 2
January 22 - May 3, 2010
“The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own,” the exhibition of works by Michael Rakowitz on view at the Tate Modern, explores the links between Western science fiction and military-industrial activities in Iraq during and after the period of Saddam Hussein’s regime. This Level 2 exhibition was curated by Ann Coxon, and Rachel Taylor. Level 2 is Tate Modern’s space for emerging artists, dedicated to experimental ideas, themes and trends in international contemporary art.
Rakowitz, who was born in Great Neck, New York in 1973 and now lives in Chicago, explores how powerful contemporary mythologies derived from popular culture have informed the collective unconscious. Through a series of detailed drawings and sculptural assemblages, his new project considers themes such as the Saddam Hussein’s fascination with the Star Wars films, the iconography of Jules Verne’s novels, and the World Wrestling Federation’s unique take on Gulf War politics.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a recreation of the Swords of Qadisiyah monument in central Baghdad. This triumphal arch, otherwise known as the Hands of Victory, was inaugurated on August 8, 1989. The invitation for the opening ceremony featured the proclamation, “The worst condition is for a person to pass under a sword which is not his own or to be forced down a road which is not willed by him.” Rakowitz’s version of the arch incorporates pages from a fantasy novel attributed to Saddam Hussein and imaginative recreations of the “Darth Vader”-style helmets worn by the Fedayeen paramilitary group formed by Hussein’s eldest son Uday. The artist explores the multiple references and resonances of the Victory Arch, from the history of its design to its use as a backdrop for military posturing.