Michael Rakowitz’s first exhibition in Los Angeles brings together a selection of projects created over the last fifteen years. These works address recurrent themes within his practice: the legacies and precarity of cultural heritage, manifestations and trajectories of power, and the ways disparate things—people, art, music, and agriculture—wend complex paths across histories and geographies. While Rakowitz’s projects are imbued with deep political import, they also reveal the strange and poignant circumstances that grow out of spaces of cultural contact and conflict.
Rakowitz’s projects focus on singular subjects as literal and symbolic embodiments of the history of Iraq, its diaspora, and the broader Middle East. His work engages both the distant past and more contemporary conditions engendered by regional and global conflicts, marked in large part by the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003. The title of the exhibition—Dispute Between the Tamarisk and the Date Palm—is taken from a Sumerian fable in which the two eponymous trees planted in the courtyard of the king argue their merits and superiority. It reflects the artist’s ongoing exploration of date palms as evocative metaphors for culture and displacement. Rakowitz’s engagement with his subjects, which in this exhibition include Saddam Hussein’s dishware and ancient Assyrian artifacts, as well as dates, is both experimental and precise. He employs a diverse range of media, from video and sculpture to social gatherings and found objects, to explore the effects of colonization, war, and diaspora on everyday objects and lives, as well as the broader tides of history. He illuminates the rich and often painful space where our personal and collective narratives intersect.