Worlds Collide in Room F. Michael Rakowitz’s The invisible enemy should not exist (Room F, section 1, Northwest Palace of Nimrud), Jane Lombard Gallery, NYC, February 22, 2020


jane lombard installation
Jane Lombard Gallery( NYC), January 9th – February 22, 2020

I had been meaning to see the latest Rakowitz show in Chelsea. I was waiting for a convenient day. Maybe I’d have some reason to be in the neighborhood. I could swing by then. I figured I’d see it at some point. I’ve been following and appreciating his work for a decade. This was another iteration of his ongoing project The invisible enemy should not exist (2007-).

I’ve also been working on my book about Assyrian queens in the Northwest Palace at Nimrud. This is part of the reason why I hadn’t yet made it to Chelsea. I try to spend my working hours tucked in at the library.

Rarely do I wake up (on a Saturday nonetheless) and say “I have an idea! I have to go write! Sorry dear husband, but can I leave you with little girl for an hour or so? I have to find a quiet place and write this down.” I had an idea about Room F of the palace.

I got myself to a spot, and started to type. Then an iMessage popped up. Oh no, I thought. I probably need to go back home. But that was not it. It was a friend reminding me it was the last day of the Rakowitz show. Ok, I’ll make it happen. We’ll check it out this afternoon.

Family in tow, I walked into the Jane Lombard Gallery about an hour before closing. Perfect timing. But even more perfect, and serendipitous, or psychic, or just crazy, is that I walked right into Room F of the palace!! Maybe somewhere in my subconscious I’d absorbed the show title; maybe I actually, deep down knew the close-date. But I had no recollection of these facts. I’d been operating on the vague notion of “Rakowitz show is up in Chelsea…” I was completely surprised, totally delighted, floored, and down-right freaked out to find myself at the eleventh hour in the room I probably dreamt about the night before.

jane lombard installation
Jane Lombard Gallery, February 2020

I quickly tried to take every picture I could of every element of the show. It was for sale, as one complete installation. I will probably never see this again. I kept imagining it set up in its new home, maybe in Hollywood, overlooking an infinity pool from a room of glass walls. What would it mean there? Would it matter?

The work itself recreates the massive carved stone, once-painted panels that lined the walls of Room F on Nimrud’s Northwest Palace in the 800s to 600s BCE. Room F  is described among ancient Near Eastern specialists as the “back room” or “retiring room” of the main throneroom. It is described in the show as a banquet hall. Sure, banquets might have been held here. I like the idea of imagining the space as it was once lived in. Maybe the new owner will install this in their dining room.

Learning Sites, Inc. simulation of queen in Nimrud's Northewest Palace

The installation consists of five panels, each over seven feet tall, displaying colorful sacred trees and bird-headed, human-bodied, winged creatures (apkallu) carrying cones and buckets with which they ritually treat the blossoming palm (the emblem of the Assyrian empire).

The Arabic words on the collaged scraps of candy wrappers, tea cartons, and newspaper collide with a daintily printed cuneiform text that runs across the panels in gold script evoking the ancient inscription carved on the original stone slabs (“…great king, strong king, king of the universe…”).

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Rakowitz, Room F, Jane Lombard Gallery, February 22, 2020

The dark patches, cracks, and swaths breaking up the images indicate surfaces lost to the ages. The gaps between the panels remind us of the palace’s more recent losses — these gaps refer to the places where nineteenth-century archaeologists extracted the neighboring slabs, now embedded in Western collections, such as the Assyrian gallery of Met uptown.

Assyrian_Court_1520 met museum walls
Assyrian reliefs from Nimrud’s Northwest Palace, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC)

The wooden beams extending from the panels emphasize their lost architectural context, while also propping these ghosts of recent and ancient memories up in our living world after their most recent tragedy. Rakowitz’s panels reconstruct the sculptures that were still in place at the excavated palace site when Nimrud fell to the hands of ISIS in 2015.

“The act was a crime against Assyria, against Iraq, and against humanity. Destroy the past, and you control the future. – Tom Holland” read a quote at my feet.  Another quote on the floor said “Fueled by an insatiable appetite for Near Eastern antiquities, sites throughout Iraq are being worked daily by teams of looters in search of ‘merchandise.’” These are the words of Dr. Selma Al-Radi, to whose memory, and the memories of two other archaeologists, Dr. Sam Paley and Dr. Donny George, the show is dedicated.

Amy Herritt so kindly took some time to step away from the desk and give me a tour. She was telling me about Rakowitz’s interest in dates as a symbol of the Iraqi people (his Fourth Plinth lamassu was made of date syrup cans) and the aptness of the Assyrian sacred trees he chose to reconstruct being date palms. As she was talking, I was also being tugged by the crescendo of ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy…” and so many layers of so many worlds collided again.

Feb 22 2020 Jane Lombard Gallery

New Book: Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology (OUP, 2020)

Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, edited by Amy Rebecca Gansell and Ann Shafer (Oxford University Press, $99).

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book cover showing ancient Near Eastern art and archaeology
Cover art by Jessica Levine, 2019.

With this volume, Gansell, Shafer, and their expert contributors confront canons, as established icons of culture, and ask how they come to be, of what use they are today, and whether they might transform or disintegrate in the future. In particular, this book investigates the ancient Near Eastern canon (Hammurabi’s Code, the gates of Babylon, the biblical sites of Ur and Nineveh…) from academic and native, Middle Eastern perspectives. Ultimately, it proposes to expand and transform the canon from a colonial artifact into a global tool for sharing, celebrating, and preserving the region’s diverse cultural heritage. We hope that this book offers not only seminal academic papers, but hope and a path to peace between people and cultures.



Foreword Irene J. Winter

Chapter 1: Perspectives on the Ancient Near Eastern Canon: More than Mesopotamia’s Greatest Hits Amy Rebecca Gansell and Ann Shafer

Chapter 2: The Southern Levant and the Ancient Near Eastern Canon Rachel Hallote
Chapter 3: Archaeological Research in Pre-Classical Syria and the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology Marina Pucci
Chapter 4: The Past, Present, and Future of the Canon of Ancient Anatolian Art Susan Helft
Chapter 5:The Canon of Ancient Iranian Art: From Grand Narratives to Local Perspectives Henry P. Colburn
Chapter 6: “Classical” vs. “Ancient” in the Near Eastern Canon: The Position of Graeco-Roman Art from the Levant, c. 330 BCE-636 CE Elise A. Friedland

Chapter 7: Defining the Canon of Funerary Archaeology in the Ancient Near East Nicola Laneri
Chapter 8: The Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Glyptic on a Roll: Leaps, Hurdles, and Goals Diana L. Stein
Chapter 9: The Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Palaces David Kertai

Chapter 10: How Ancient and Modern Memory Shapes the Past: A Canon of Assyrian Memory Davide Nadali
Chapter 11: Museums as Vehicles for Defining Artistic Canons: The Case of the Ancient Near East in the British Museum Paul Collins
Chapter 12: Beyond the Canon: The Future of the Past in Museum Exhibitions of Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Art Rachel P. Kreiter
Chapter 13: The Ancient Near Eastern Canon in the University Classroom, and Beyond: My Colleagues Speak Ann Shafer

Heritage Perspectives
Chapter 14: The Lucrative Business of the Cyrus Cylinder: Commodification of an Iranian Icon Kamyar Abdi
Chapter 15: Between Hazor and Masada-Iconic archaeological sites as symbols of collective memories in modern Israeli identities Gideon Avni
Chapter 16: Past Resurrections Tamara Chalabi
Chapter 17: Earth, Rocks, and Blood: A Wandering Home Sargon George Donabed
Chapter 18: 6,000 Years Maymanah Farhat
Chapter 19: Cultural Heritage Attrition in Egypt Monica Hanna
Chapter 20: Crafting the Ancient Near Eastern Canon: A Personal Reflection Zena Kamash
Chapter 21: The Consequences of the Destruction of Syrian Heritage on the Syrian Identity and Future Generations Youssef Kanjou, translated from Arabic by Nadia Barakat
Chapter 22: Contemporary Art and Archaeology in the Arab World Salwa Mikdadi
Chapter 23: The Assyrians-Then and Now Ramsen Shamon
Chapter 24: Bringing the Past to a Living Room Near You: The Archaeological Heritage of Anatolia on Glass Oya Topçuoglu



Dr. Lamia Al-Gailani Werr


Dr. Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, scholar of Mesopotamian Art and tireless defender of Iraqi Cultural Heritage, passed away January 18, 2019, in Jordan. Here is a video of her 2017 lecture,”Four Wars and the Museums in Iraq“.

drawing of three figures in long dresses standing around abstract tree - Cylinder seal impression from Nimrud

The day I received news of her passing I had been looking at some seal carvings she illustrated from the Nimrud tombs. I am inspired to continue my research on those seals in her honor. Thank you Lamia for always generously sharing your knowledge with us.

Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East (eds. Saana Svärd and Agnes Garcia-Ventura), 2018

many people standing in group smiling - Helsinki Gender and Methodology in the Ancient Near East Workshop


Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East includes papers presented at the First Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East, in Helsinki Finland, October 26-28, 2014. The contributions explore how the interpretation of material from the ancient Near East is enriched through the application of diverse methodological and theoretical approaches to studying gender.

The essays increase the visibility of women in ancient history, untangle constructions of masculinity and femininity in diverse contexts, and grapple with big-picture questions, such as the suitability of applying third-wave or postfeminist theories to the ancient Near East. Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East points to a need for—and provides a model of—a more productive agenda for gender studies in furthering our understanding of ancient Near Eastern societies.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Julia M. Asher-Greve, Stephanie Lynn Budin, Megan Cifarelli, M. Érica Couto-Ferreira, Amy Rebecca Gansell, Katrien De Graef, Amélie Kuhrt, Stephanie M. Langin-Hooper, Brigitte Lion, Natalie N. May, Beth Alpert Nakhai, Martti Nissinen, Omar N’Shea, María Rosa Oliver, Frances Pinnock, Eleonora Ravenna, Allison Karmel Thomason, Luciana Urbano, Niek Veldhuis, and Ilona Zsolnay.

For more information on the volume, see the publisher’s website:

queen dining detail_best detail clarity
Detail of relief sculpture of Neo-Assyrian queen Libbali-sharrat attending banquet with king Ashurbanipal. Stone, l.  ~140 cm. (British Museum inv. no. 124920)

My chapter “In Pursuit of Neo-Assyrian Queens: An Interdisciplinary Model for Researching Ancient Women and Engendering Ancient History” (pp. 157-81, in Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East, ed. S. Svärd and A. Garcia-Ventura, University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, an imprint of Penn State University Press, 2018). Download the chapter here

Summary: Here I present an interdisciplinary methodology combining art historical, textual, archaeological, ethnographic, experimental fashion design, and virtual reality approaches to uncovering the presence and power of ancient Assyrian queens.

Abstract: This study aims to reintegrate queens into Neo-Assyrian history. Archaeologically, the Nimrud tombs provide evidence for the appearance, treatment, and personal identities of deceased women. Art historical analysis of large- and small-scale images of queens considers not only the nature of the queenly image, but the significance of the contexts in which these artworks would have been viewed. In addition, the royal use of divine and fantastical, often nude, female figures provides a window onto elite concepts of ideal feminine beauty, which royal women would have emulated and embodied. Enhancing the standard triad of textual, archaeological, and art historical evidence, ethnographic comparison can provide models to enliven and reinforce ancient sources, and digital reconstructions can be used to visually hypothesize and more actively analyze ancient realities. Finally, because neither male nor female histories exist independently, the relationship between king and queen is interpreted in the context of the palace, court, empire, and cosmos.