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Michael Rakowitz on Star Wars and Saddam Hussein

Global modernisms in the 21st century

Video transcript

Michael records we're here at the Tate Modern level 2 gallery and this is an exhibition of mine called the worst condition is to pass under a sort which is not one's own the exhibition is comprised a lot of different materials drawings sculptures video that explore these kind of unbelievable connections between Western science fiction and fantasy and the design of the weapons uniforms and monuments under the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq from about nineteen eighty nine to two thousand three I was diverted online looking at eBay and i found this helmet that was uncanny exactly like Darth Vader's helmet and it turns out it was a war trophy brought back from Iraq by US soldier who was with a hundred and first airborne division and it turns out these were the helmets of the fette in Saddam and they were the last troops to stand against the United States when Baghdad felony parole of 03 and Uday Hussein was the son of Saddam who is charged with heading up this paramilitary organization and he was an avid Star Wars fan and apparently designed the helmets and the uniform so that they bore this resemblance to the famous Star Wars villain but the story gets more and more complicated and complex and further embedded into this science fix of mythology when on the eve of the first Gulf War Saddam has his troops marching underneath the hands of victory monument to the theme song from Star Wars and I think what's happening in these rooms is that I'm asking questions and speculating on things that are in one way or another just kind of reemphasize in the bizarre connections here I mean to think that's that Uday Hussein who was born in nineteen sixty-five which was eight years before I was born as part of the same generation of kids that I grew up with who were watching the same movies and acting out the same scenarios and the playgrounds or in the parents backyard I think with the monument in particular I became fascinated in art school when I was studying public art and in Iraqi expat architect named Canon mekia had written a book called the monument and it's a really really interesting book and when I saw the cover image of these two hands willingness two swords crossed I was immediately reminded of this one poster that I grew up with on my wall as a kid it was a giveaway poster from the first showings of the Empire Strikes Back and then it turns out the illustrator boris vallejo was best friends with marina moral who was a fellow sci-fi and fantasy illustrator whose paintings were found on Saddam's walls when the palaces were invaded by the US Army and and it turns out the bars vallejos over a critical essay in her monograph called the BR / weena and so all these connections end up becoming a little too irresistible in a way however loose they may be speculated they may be a Maradon emerges and it's also the voice of the American soldier coming in as a form of journalism that is not a part of embedded journalism visa V the news stations it's when they go online on places like eBay or Flickr and they start describing what these things are no news outlet picked up on the Darth Vader helmets it all comes from these sort of almost provenance texts that one finds when they're being hawked online so with these materials I'm always trying to bring the viewer back from the drawings and then place them into this space where these real items are reinforcing the narrative that they're there reading in the illustrations which are so unbelievable on many different levels but then there are these objects and these images these real items that underpin their occurrence as as truth