Sep 28th 2019

This September, the Oriental Institute (OI) of the University of Chicago (UChicago) will unveil new works from internationally acclaimed contemporary artists Ann Hamilton and Michael Rakowitz to launch its yearlong Centennial celebration, marking 100 years of pioneering research and study of the earliest civilizations in the ancient Middle East. Additionally, Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez will serve as the OI’s first interpreter-in-residence, exhibiting his work at the OI Museum and presenting public programs throughout the 2019–2020 academic year.

All three contemporary artists’ works will illuminate, or directly engage with, artifacts within the OI’s expansive collection. The OI Museum exhibits the largest collection of ancient Middle East artifacts in the United States, with more than 350,000 artifacts mainly excavated by OI archaeologists and some 5,000 on display to the public.

The new artworks will be officially unveiled at a festive public OI Centennial celebration on Saturday, September 28, from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. at the OI Museum (1155 E. 58th Street), including music performances from the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, an artifact “scavenger hunt” for children, and gallery tours and talks by OI scholars and archaeologists. For more information and the most up-to-date schedule of events, visit

Visual art programming commemorating the OI Centennial includes:

• Ann Hamilton, recipient of the National Medal of Arts and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, will create a new large-scale installation in the Mansueto Grand Reading Room at UChicago’s Regenstein Library for her project aeon, affixing to the room’s massive glass dome a series of translucent images of OI artifacts that she produced using a small flatbed desktop scanner and a handheld wand scanner. After several thousand years entombed underground, and nearly a century enclosed in the OI’s display cases, the ancient figures are illuminated and “animated” through Hamilton’s ethereal images. Her aeon project will also include a book and limited-edition portfolio of prints.

• Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz will create a site-specific installation as part of his series The invisible enemy should not exist. These include reappearances of reliefs from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, destroyed by Isis in 2015, made using contemporary Middle Eastern newspapers and packaging from northern Iraqi foods. In the OI collection is a Northwest Palace relief fragment with the head of the Assyrian king (obtained on exchange with the British Museum). Rakowitz and his studio will reproduce the remainder of the panel, with the final artwork displayed in the OI Museum’s Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.

• Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez will exhibit works at the OI Museum including Hiraeth and Collateral Damage. His works and associated public programming as the OI’s first interpreter-in-residence will explore the links between the loss of ancient artifacts in the Middle East and contemporary loss of human life and human suffering in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Hafez will create links between past and present geographies, humanizing ancient history so that visitors to the OI Museum understand that the artifacts on display, thousands of years old, come from the same place as the Middle East of today.

The works by Rakowitz and Hafez will be exhibited at the OI Museum throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. Hamilton’s aeon installation will remain in Regenstein Library through the end of November.

“We’re proud to be collaborating with artists of this caliber,” said OI Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the Museum Jean M. Evans. “It’s great to find new ways to connect visitors to the ancient past and to make that past more immediate and tangible.”

Telling stories that date back thousands of years in human history, the OI explores how humans, together, have been grappling with similar challenges since ancient times—and how the study of these first civilizations can illuminate contemporary social, political, religious, and environmental issues.

Since its founding in 1919, the OI has led a century of excavations and research projects throughout the Middle East, many of which continue today in countries including Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan. The comprehensive and rigorous work of OI scholars deciphers ancient languages; reconstructs histories, literatures, and religions of long-lost civilizations; and creates transformative dictionaries that serve as cultural encyclopedias essential to understanding the ancient world.

Visitors to the OI Museum can follow the growth and journey of the earliest settlements, civilizations, and empires through the artifacts on display—including early stone tools at the dawn of agriculture from Jarmo, a colossal 40-ton winged bull from the Assyrian palace of Sargon II at Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad), and a fragment from the oldest known manuscript of the famous A Thousand and One Nights.

For more information and the most up-to-date schedule of OI Centennial programming, visit


Mohamad Hafez is an interdisciplinary artist and architect born in Syria, raised in Saudi Arabia and educated in the Midwestern United States. A self-taught sculptor, Hafez uses his expertise as a licensed AIA architect as well as his lived experience of Damascus’s rich built environment to create poetic streetscapes high in fidelity and charged in content. His mixed-media sculptural compilations of objects anchor uneasy conversations, stimulating deeper audience engagement on contentious topics like torture and prisoner abuse, child starvation in Africa, or the ongoing global refugee crisis. Hafez studied at Damascus University and Northern Illinois University before earning his B.Arch. at Iowa State University in 2009. Hafez began practicing sculpture shortly after coming to the U.S. in 2003, out of homesickness and nostalgia provoked by prohibitive Bush-era NSEERS travel restrictions. Hafez has exhibited at The Brooklyn Museum, UNICEF House, NYC; Orlando Museum of Art, Florida; Yale Art Gallery, New Haven; and Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait, among others. He has received national attention in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Boston Globe, AJ+, Global Citizen, The Guardian, and NPR. Hafez is currently full-time with the firm Pickard Chilton and was Project Lead Designer on the 2017 50-story, 1.5 million GSF office tower 609 Main in downtown Houston, TX. Hafez is the recipient of a 2018 Connecticut Arts Hero Award for his extensive and continuous body of work on issues such as the Syrian civil war, the worldwide refugee crisis, and an overall desire to counter hate speech. He serves as a 2018 Yale University Silliman College Fellow and artist-in-residence at the Keller Center of Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago.

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist internationally acclaimed for her large-scale multi-media installations, public projects, and performance collaborations. Hamilton uses common materials as a means of addressing the knowledge that comes from language and touch, creating site-responsive installations for individual and collective experience. Hamilton has received the National Medal of Arts, MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, NEA Visual Arts Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship, the Heinz Award, and was selected to represent the United States at the 1991 Sao Paulo Biennial and the 1999 Venice Biennale. She received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in Sculpture from the Yale University School of Art in 1985. Hamilton currently lives in Columbus, Ohio where she is Distinguished University Professor of Art at The Ohio State University.

Michael Rakowitz is an artist living and working in Chicago. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including dOCUMENTA (13), P.S.1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, the 16th Biennale of Sydney, the 10th and 14th Istanbul Biennials, Sharjah Biennial 8, Tirana Biennale, National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. He has had solo projects and exhibitions with Creative Time, Tate Modern in London, MCA Chicago, Lombard Freid Gallery in New York, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago and Kunstraum Innsbruck. He is the recipient of the 2018 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts; a 2012 Tiffany Foundation Award; a 2008 Creative Capital Grant; a Sharjah Biennial Jury Award; a 2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in Architecture and Environmental Structures; the 2003 Dena Foundation Award, and the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. He was awarded the Fourth Plinth commission in London’s Trafalgar Square, on view through 2020. A survey of his work is on view at Whitechapel Gallery in London and will travel to Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Torino in 2019 and The Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai in 2020. Rakowitz is Professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.


The Oriental Institute (OI) was founded at the University of Chicago in 1919 by James Henry Breasted with a radical idea. He insisted that who we are—how we live as humans together—began not in Greece or Rome, but rather in the complex civilizations that emerged in an area of the ancient Middle East that he vividly named “The Fertile Crescent.” Breasted was appointed as faculty in 1894 by William R. Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, and received financial support and encouragement from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for the founding of the OI. The OI is one of the world’s leading centers for the study of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations, combining innovation in theory, methodology, and significant empirical discovery with the highest standards of rigorous scholarship. The OI Museum was opened to the public in 1931 and houses the largest collection of artifacts from the ancient Middle East in the United States, including more than 350,000 artifacts with roughly 5,000 on display. The majority of the collections come from the OI’s expeditions in the Middle East during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. For more information visit

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