Michael Rakowitz offers British Museum sculpture in exchange for returning artefact to Iraq

Michael Rakowitz, the Iraqi American artist, has offered a large-scale work of his if the the British Museum agrees to return an artefact to Iraq.

Michael Rakowitz british museum iraq restitution

Michael Rakowitz, the Iraqi American artist, has offered his large-scale work if the British Museum agrees to return an artefact to Iraq.


Rakowitz was commissioned for the 2018 Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The Guardian reports he is proposing offering that instalment to Tate Modern – a British Museum affiliate overseen by the U.K. government.

It would be offered in exchange for the British Museum sharing ownership of an Assyrian sculpture with Iraq. Rakowitz began exploring a potential deal in 2020, which is now moving closer to fruition.

The proposal is set to be addressed next month during an impending visit of Iraq’s culture ministry to London, where they will meet British officials during a scheduled tour of the British Museum.

Michael Rakowitz british museum iraq restitution

The fourth plinth sculpture, titled ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ by Iraqi American artist Michael Rakowitz is unveiled in Trafalgar Square on March 28, 2018, in London, England. The work is a recreation of the Lamassu, a winged bull and protective deity made from 10,500 empty date syrup cans. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Rakowitz’s Fourth Plinth commission was of the same subject as the sculpture he suggests the British Museum return – a mythical Assyrian winged bull known as a ‘lamassu’. Rakowitz’s modern interpretation was made out of date syrup tins, while the artefact in question is one of two Assyrian lamassu sculptures the British Museum has. A 19th-century British archaeologist uncovered the pair.

A statement obtained by the Guardian reveals the British Museum has not yet said whether it will return the original lamassu to Iraq but is reportedly considering a loan deal and “future collaborations.” 

Rakowitz has long used his work to draw attention to Iraq’s losses of cultural property amid ongoing conflicts.

Since Iraq’s Mosul Museum was damaged in 2015 by ISIS militants, including lamassu sculptures being destroyed, officials from the country are working to restore it.


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