The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square measures approximately 4.3 meters in length. So too does the Lamassu, a winged bull protective Assyrian deity that stood at the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Nineveh from ca. 700 B.C. until February 2015, when ISIS destroyed it along with artifacts in the nearby Mosul Museum. For the Fourth Plinth, I have reconstructed the Lamassu, using empty metal Iraqi date syrup cans to clad an underlying steel armature. The reverse features a carved cuneiform inscription that was invisible to viewers because it was cemented to the wall of the Nergal Gate. Here, in its removed and displaced state, the cuneiform is exposed and translates as: “Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, had the (inner) and outer wall of Nineveh built anew and raised as high as mountain(s)”.
As with all my projects, the cycle of materials, their provenance and their aura, is important. While the bronze elements of the Corinthian capital of Nelson’s Column are made from canons salvaged from the wreck of the HMS Royal George, the salvage of date syrup cans makes present the human, economic and ecological disasters caused by the Iraq Wars and their aftermath. Iraqi dates were once considered the best in the world and constituted the country’s second largest export after oil. In the late 1970s, the Iraqi date industry listed over 30 million date palms in the country. By the end of the 2003 Iraq War, only 3 million remained.
To circumvent the 1990 U.N. embargo and reach a Western market, Iraqi manufacturers shipped date syrup to Syria to be packed in unmarked cans. The cans then went to Lebanon, where they received a label identifying them as “Product of Lebanon” and were exported worldwide as a veiled commodity. Today, post-sanctions, only one brand among dozens lists Iraq as its country of origin due to the exorbitant security-related charges levied by U.S. government agencies on imports indicating Iraqi origin.
The reconstruction, set on the Fourth Plinth, allows an apparition to haunt Trafalgar Square. Unlike the pair of Lamassu housed inside the British Museum, the recreation stands outside with wings raised, still performing his duty as guardian of Iraq’s past and present, hoping to return in the future.