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009_04 / 29 October 2015


Erasing, 1 May–31 May 2014.

Documentation, durational performance, Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York, NY.

Video, 2 minutes.


Erasing was a durational performance piece that consisted of a large display table, a set of archivist tools and an inkjet photograph approximately 58" x 77" in size. Each day, the artist ritually selected a cubic square of the image to cut from the photograph while an assistant documented the process. The tiny photographic squares were then pinned to the display table while floating above its surface.


The mounted photograph depicted a serene view of a palace with a swimming pool overlooking arid hills. It was a style of documentation common to home décor and real estate magazines that sought to accentuate the idyllic qualities of the mansion depicted. However, further study revealed that the palace has been plundered and destroyed. The view showed an empty pool overlooking arid hills, and the colonnade is crumbling. The photograph was taken in a palace that once belonged to Saddam Hussein. 


In actuality, the mounted photograph was not the simple, straightforward documentation it first seemed. It was a reconstruction  a photograph of a set composed and stylized after an original press photograph of the pool by the palace. The original dreamily illustrated, a palace of memory in an idyllic past, its destruction immortalized and filtered through an aesthetic haze. Its recreation suggested reclamation, empowerment, seizing control of the dialogue of the image and upending it. But to what extent? In the photograph, we saw the palace as an ideal, a monument to beauty and splendor. But it was also the home of a tyrant and dictator, a destroyer of the very ideals this palace elevates. The palace lay in ruins, but whose ruin? Did the palace represent hope renewed, or the fall of a dictator whose monument to greatness has been shattered? Or was it simply a palace of Iraq, whose destruction symbolized its own fall from grace?


The photograph explicated none of these stories. Each day, the artist arrived to consider another portion of the image, deliberating on the aftermath of the palace's destruction. In so doing, this process of selection and transference enabled further distortion through the filter of personal contemplation and transformed the image in both a literal and transhistorical sense. The story of the image and the history of its ruin are not one and the same, nor are the reconstructions of its aftermath. In the end, the image and its considerations were split  the war-torn and spotted terrain combined with the rippling landscape of scattered information were pinned to the table like so many dissected specimens of a past whose puzzle is incomplete. 

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.