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10 Years On: Art and Everyday Life in Iraq and Iran

Ibraaz Talks: Wafaa Bilal

005 / 27 June 2013

Ibraaz Talks is a series of specially curated conversations with artists, curators and writers.  Each participant is invited to respond to a particular issue or keyword that they feel in some way addresses formal and conceptual issues affecting contemporary visual culture.  This response, from Wafaa Bilal, was recorded during the conference 10 Years On: Art and Everyday Life in Iraq and Iran, organised by Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art, Design & Media, in partnership with Ibraaz, which took place in London on June 07–08 this year.


About the author

Wafaa Bilal

Wafaa Bilal is an Iraqi-born artist and Assistant Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is known internationally for his on-line performative and interactive works provoking dialogue about international politics and internal dynamics. For his current project, the 3rdi, Bilal had a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head to spontaneously transmit images to the web 24 hours a day – a statement on surveillance, the mundane and the things we leave behind. Bilal’s 2010 work …And Counting similarly used his own body as a medium. His back was tattooed with a map of Iraq and dots representing Iraqi and US casualties – the Iraqis in invisible ink seen only under a black light. Bilal’s 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, also addressed the Iraq war. Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could shoot at him over the internet. The Chicago Tribune called it 'one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time' and named him 2008 Artist of the Year. Bilal’s work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the 'comfort zone' of the U.S. and his consciousness of the 'conflict zone' in Iraq. Bilal suffered repression under Saddam Hussein’s regime and fled Iraq in 1991 during the first Gulf War. After two years in refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, he came to the U.S. where he graduated from the University of New Mexico and then obtained an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2008 City Lights published Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, about Bilal’s life and the Domestic Tension project.