Michael Rakowitz is not a political artist

by Britt Julious

“I want reality."

Although he inaccurately receives a “political art” label, Michael Rakowitz is interested, rather, in creating projects that foster community and provide visibility for communities through methods of idiosyncrasy.

Consider one of his most well known works, “Enemy Kitchen,” first held in New York before moving to his adopted home of Chicago (Rakowitz teaches at Northwestern University). Exploring the connections between different places and cultures through the use of food, “Enemy Kitchen” was conceived after nding a so-called “Mediterranean restaurant” that actually served Iraqi cuisine. Rakowitz employed former American soldiers as line cooks and used a food truck to sell the cuisine across the city. “The premise of the project has never been about proselytization. It’s never been about a pat leftist argument about the war,” Rakowitz says. “I want reality. I want to allow for this hearth of hospitality to open up and potentially handle hostility.”

As a Jewish-Iraqi American artist, Rakowitz works within the scope of the Middle East as an actual place and as a looming figure in Western culture and politics. His latest project explores this concept even further. Titled The Flesh is Yours, The Bones are Ours, the project showcases Istanbul’s architectural remains in stone and plaster and how they contrast with the diverse city’s development.

Currently on view at the Graham Foundation and Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, The Flesh is Yours features an overabundance of artifacts old and new. Beautiful, cream- colored plaster pieces are carefully placed in non-linear formation on the floor, along the walls, on tables, and even inside an outdoor water fountain. There are so many artifacts that it is difficult for one to even enter the room, signifying the weight of history on the present.

Newly created works by Rakowitz resemble at once the intricacies of the molding on classic Chicago skyscrapers, feathers, bird bones, and broken emblems from a family crest. Their groupings—sometimes everywhere all at once—tell a story of place and time.

While Rakowitz is not a political artist, he believes politics permeate the very nature of how and why we create art. If art is meant to challenge the cultural stasis in which it is created, it can only be considered in turn as a political act. “I’m not a journalist, I’m not a politician. I’m not a social worker,” Rakowitz offers. “All of these things are important to me, but I’m convinced by art. I trust art.”

All images: Exhibition view, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2007-ongoing). Tables with artifacts from cardboard, middle eastern packaging, newspapers, glue, museum labels, sound, and four drawings. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin. Photo: Nick Ash.

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