NEW YORK, NY.-
In cooperation with the U.S. Attorneys Office, artist Michael Rakowitz and public arts presenter Creative Time facilitated the return of dinner plates once belonging to Saddam Hussein to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq to the United Nations in New York City. The plates were most recently used in an artist-chef collaboration entitled Spoils, featured at New Yorks Park Avenue Autumn
restaurant from September 28 through November 26 of this year.
Rakowitz, who is of Iraqi-Jewish descent, collaborated with Park Avenue Autumn Chef Kevin Lasko on Spoils, a culinary experience that aimed to connect the history of the United States and Iraq through the timeless experience of food, the more recent link of conflict, and to explore the tensions between the diners tongue, the sweetness of the Iraqi date syrup, and the complicatedeven bitterhistory of the dishware. Rakowitz says, I am interested in making work that operates on multiple levels, and this project is very much an experience, but one that relies on the power and history of objects
I am very aware of the complicated nature of this dish, and the project seeks to put the diner into a situation where a set of choices need to be made. It necessitates a position to be taken, and the diners ethics are a part of the work. The dish, which was served to about 700 diners over the course of the project, was generally well received and inspired a range of reactions and some dynamic conversations. Two Kuwaitis who attended the project launch event found it to be a sad, yet healing, experience.
Speaking about the return of the plates, Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak said, We couldnt have asked for a more beautiful conclusion to this project. The plates will be going back to their rightful ownersthe Iraqi people.
On the morning of December 13, 2011, Rakowitz welcomed a US Marshal to the New York offices of Creative Time and assisted in identifying the 19 plates used in Spoils. The plates are believed to have originally been taken from Saddams palaces by Iraqis, and then sold on US military bases in Iraq at government-sanctioned flea markets. In preparation for his two-month long project, Creative Time and Rakowitz legally acquired the plates on eBay, from an American soldier serving in Iraq and an Iraqi refugee currently living in the US. Responding to allegations that the plates were looted, Rakowitz concurred: Iraqis took these plates and while some sold them to Coalition soldiers in flea markets hosted on Army and Air Force Exchange Services bases, many Iraqis also used them at home, as a way of seizing the power of their fallen leaders.
After the plates left the Creative Time premises, they were hand-delivered by a US Marshal and his assistant to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq to the United Nations, where they were first inspected and then accepted by emissaries for Iraqi Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati. Rakowitz met with the UN Missions Iraqi staff after the plates were handed over, and he explained to them how his familial connection to the Middle Eastern nation was one of the projects inspirations. As December 14 marked the first time that any member of Rakowitzs family had stepped foot on Iraqi soil since his grandparents left for the US in 1946, the handover of the plates provided the artist with a powerful conclusion to the project.
I am very thankful to the US State Department for helping us respectfully finish this piece, said Rakowitz. He continued: There is something very damaging when monuments and other symbols of past regimes are destroyed. It employs a certain kind of amnesia, essentially erasing traces of the past. Even if they were failed regimes, it is important to keep those traces alive. A project of this nature resists that impulse to forget. And it serves as a counterpoint to the frequency to which those monuments and palaces, and other symbols of power, were destroyed during the American invasion.
The return of the plates coincided with the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to Washington DC to discuss with President Obama the impending departure of US Army troops from Iraq this December. The plates, which will eventually be displayed in an Iraqi museum, were sent back to Iraq with the Prime Minister on his private plane.