For Michael Rakowitz: Nimrud, the Iraqi-American artist has recreated Room H from the well-known Northwest Palace in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud (Kalhu), located near Mosul in present-day Iraq dating from 883–859 BCE. To make his colorful reproductions of the ancient carved stone reliefs, Rakowitz uses packaging for food products imported from the Middle East to the US and sold in local Middle Eastern groceries in Chicago, where the artist lives and works.

In the mid-nineteenth century, many of the palace’s reliefs were removed by archeologists and acquired by private collections and public institutions throughout the Western world, including Hamilton College. While Rakowitz’s materials reference the current Middle Eastern diaspora, the content of his work is a reaction to centuries of looting ancient sites — both legally sanctioned and illegal, often occurring in times of foreign occupation. His work implicates the museum as a colonial entity and calls attention to the problematic and pervasive practice of removing cultural artifacts from their original context. Alongside “Room H,” the artist will debut a new group of small sculptures representing objects looted, destroyed, or at risk of loss due to political violence.

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Michael Rakowitz: Nimrud continues at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College (198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY) through June 13, 2021. The exhibition is curated by Katherine D. Alcauskas, Chief Curator, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin–Madison.