Digital Media Concepts/Wafaa Bilal

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Wafaa Bilal

Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal is internationally renowned for dialogue provoking political artwork. Bilal integrates themes of  international politics and internal dynamics through high profile, technologically-driven performances that employ the use of robotics, the internet, and photographic mobile mapping.

He is best known for his performance entitled “Domestic Tension”, (2007), in which Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun pointed at him. The paintball gun could be operated remotely by anyone from over the internet.

Education[edit | edit source]

Bilal's family is from Najaf, Iraq. Originally studying geography at the university in Iraq, Bilal received his BFA in 1999 from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003, and became an adjunct assistant professor the following year. Bilal is currently an Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Notable work[edit | edit source]

Domestic Tension, 2007[edit | edit source]

For his 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could remotely operate and shoot at him 24/7 over the Internet. The inspiration for Domestic Tension stemmed from Bilal's experiences in refugee camps during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

While confined to the gallery space for a month, Bilal had no way to escape the constant threat and noise of the paintball gun or the feedback he received from viewers watching his every move online. Overall, a total of 60,000 shots were fired over the course of 30 days by "shooters" from 128 different countries.

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”.[1]

Virtual Jihadi, 2008[edit | edit source]

The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi is a computer game artwork created by Wafaa Bilal. A Virtual Jihadi is a modified version of the game Quest for Bush, itself a "hacked" version of the popular commercial video game Quest for Saddam. While in the real game players target the ex-Iraqi leader, in Wafaa's modified version the artist casts himself as a suicide bomber who gets sent on a mission to assassinate President George W. Bush.[2]

Jihadi is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the recent war, as well as their vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups such as Al Qaeda. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab Culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media.

3rdi[edit | edit source]

For this year-long performance piece in 2010, commissioned by the Mathaf Museum of Modern Art, Bilal underwent a two-hour long operation to have a digital camera implanted in the back of his skull. The camera automatically took a picture each minute, which was live streamed to the 3rd I website and which was displayed on LCD monitors in the Mathaf Museum.

After doctors refused his initial request to have the camera inserted into his head last year, the artist had the procedure done at a body-piercing studio in Los Angeles. The camera was mounted on three posts attached to a titanium base inserted between Bilal's skin and skull. The set-up had been causing him pain despite treatment with antibiotics and steroids.  The camera had to be removed because his body rejected the device.[3]

Other work[edit | edit source]

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. Using his own body as a medium, Bilal continued to challenge our comfort zone with projects like 3rdi and …and Counting. Bilal’s most recent body of work, Canto III, premiered in a solo booth at the New York Armory Show in 2015 and went on to be shown in the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Awards and scholarships:[edit | edit source]

Awards and scholarships:
Year Award
2012 New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) New York, NY
2011 Freedom to Create Commended Artist Award South Africa
2010 The Kindal Achievement Award

References[edit | edit source]

  1. critic, Alan G. Artner, Tribune art. "WAFAA BILAL". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-10-01.
  2. Bilal, Wafaa. (2008). Shoot an Iraqi : art, life and resistance under the gun. Lydersen, Kari. San Francisco, CA: City Lights. ISBN 978-0-87286-491-7. OCLC 216936696.
  3. "Artist forced to remove headcam". BBC News. 2011-02-11. Retrieved 2020-10-01.

Addition Resources[edit | edit source]

Wafaa Bilal website