22 January - 3 May 2010

This January, Tate Modern will unveil the latest Level 2 exhibition, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own. The exhibition of works by Michael Rakowitz explores the links between western science fiction and military-industrial activities in Iraq during and after the period of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Level 2 is Tate Modern’s space for emerging artists, dedicated to experimental ideas, themes and trends in international contemporary art. 

Michael Rakowitz 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 Iraqi leaders’ fascination with the Star Wars films; the iconography of Jules Verne’s novels; as well as the World Wrestling Federation’s unique take on Gulf War politics.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a recreation of the Swords of Qādisīyah monument in central Baghdad. This triumphal arch, otherwise known as the Hands of Victory, was inaugurated on 8 August 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.

Michael Rakowitz works in the manner of a cultural archaeologist, presenting an unexpected network of connections between historical fact and fantasy. Rakowitz’s project The invisible enemy should not exist was shown at the Istanbul and Sharjah Biennials in 2007 and the group exhibition Transmission Interrupted at Modern Art Oxford in 2009.  For this on-going project the artist initiated the recreation of the historic artefacts looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during the Gulf War, using common Middle-Eastern packaging materials. An earlier project from 2006, Return, involved the resurrection of an import-export company run by Rakowitz’s Iraqi-Jewish grandfather. Michael Rakowitz was born in Great Neck, New York in 1973 and lives and works in Chicago. 

The exhibition is curated by Ann Coxon, Assistant Curator, Displays at Tate Modern and Rachel Taylor, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.