The Ishtar Gate was built in c. 575 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar as a central feature of ancient Babylon. Through this magnificent blue tile arch ran the Processional Way, along which the New Year celebration would pass, bringing statues of the gods to and from the Akitu Temple. The avenue was called Aj ibur shapu, which means “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist.” Alternately, it has also been translated as “May the Obdurate Foe Not Stay in Good Health.”
Begun in 2007, Michael Rakowitz’s ongoing project, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist comprises reconstructions of the 7,000+ objects looted from the National Museum of Iraq in April 2003 following the US-led invasion. The life-size replicas are made from the packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs and local Arabic newspapers, moments of cultural visibility found in cities across the US. The objects were created with assistants using the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute database and Interpol’s website.
May the Obdurate Foe Not Stay in Good Health extends Rakowitz’s project to focus on objects destroyed, looted or at risk in Syria since the beginning of that country’s civil war in March, 2011. Reconstructions of these artifacts are made from the packaging of Syrian foodstuffs imported to the US—products that have become increasingly scarce as the war continues to erode the country’s infrastructure, destroy its environment and its people.