Wafaa Bilal's childhood in Iraq was defined by the horrific rule of Saddam Hussein, two wars, a bloody uprising, and time spent interned in chaotic refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bilal eventually made it to the U.S. to become a professor and a successful artist, but when his brother was killed at a U.S. checkpoint in 2005, he decided to use his art to confront those in the comfort zone with the realities of life in a conflict zone. Thus the creation and staging of "Domestic Tension," an unsettling interactive performance piece: for one month, Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connected him to internet viewers around the world. Visitors to the gallery and a virtual audience that grew by the thousands could shoot at him 24 hours a day. The project received overwhelming worldwide attention, garnering the praise of the Chicago Tribune, which called it "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time," and Newsweek's assessment "breathtaking." It spawned provocative online debates and ultimately, Bilal was awarded the Chicago Tribune's Artist of the Year Award.
Structured in two parallel narratives, the story of Bilal's life journey and of his "Domestic Tension" experience, this first-person account is supplemented with comments on the history and current political situation in Iraq and the context of "Domestic Tension" within the art world, including interviews with art scholars such as Dean of the School of Art at Columbia University, Carol Becker, who also contributes the introduction. Shoot an Iraqi is equally pertinent reading for those who seek insight into the current conflict in Iraq, and for those fascinated by interactive art technologies and the ever-expanding world of online gaming.
Wafaa Bilal, a professor of Photography and Imaging at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, has exhibited his art worldwide and lectured extensively. He has been interviewed on NPR, the BBC, CNN, MSNBC and the History Channel.
Praise for Shoot an Iraqi :
"Once I picked up this manuscript, I could not put it down. There is something so urgent and compelling about Bilal's story, as though he is speaking to our time. His story is not just for those interested in the arts; it is a human story of the horror, frustration, and tragedies of war."
—Mary Flanagan, artist and author of re:skin (MIT Press)
"This is an unsettling and gripping book. It poignantly recounts a dark and imaginative experiment inspired by an excruciating and ghastly reality. Its unsettling effects couldn't be more welcome: we desperately need to be shocked out of our collective zombification, and this book does that by leading us through a wild labyrinth at once aesthetic, political, and existential. Potent stuff."
—Danny Postel, author of Reading "Legitimation Crisis" in Tehran