Shoot An Iraqi

Shoot An Iraqi
Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun




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105,000 Tattoos: Iraqi Artist Wafaa Bilal Turns His Own Body into a Canvas to Commemorate Dead Iraqis & Americans

"The official death toll from the war is 100,000, but it is widely estimated to be much higher, perhaps even as high as one million. In his latest piece of artwork, Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal tries to grapple with the enormity of these numbers. It's a twenty-four-hour live tattooing performance called '..and Counting' that began at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts gallery in New York Monday night. By tonight Bilal’s back will be tattooed with the names of Iraqi cities, 5,000 red dots representing dead American soldiers and 100,000 dots in invisible ink representing the official death toll for Iraqis. The dots representing the Iraqi death toll will only be visible under ultraviolet light."

-Amy Goodman, Democracy Now Mar 9, 2010

Arte Postcoloniale
"Wafaa Bilal, iracheno rifugiato negli States, narra in un libro l'esperienza estrema di «Domestic tension», una performance ideata per interrogarsi sugli orrori della guerra." An Italian review of Shoot an Iraqui.
-Beatrice Cassina, Studi Culturali e Postcoloniali Università degli Studi di Napoli Mar 15, 2009

Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art Goes Politics
"Art goes politics, the first panel of Positions in Flux, discussed how/whether media art has the potential to contribute to global and local problems such as religious and territorial conflicts, environmental or social crisis. One of the three artists invited to participate to the discussion is Wafaa Bilal. Born in Iraq, Bilal gained worldwide fame in 2007 with his performance Domestic Tension (aka. Shoot an Iraqi) which enabled web users around the world to control a paintball gun and shoot at him 24 hours a day. For a whole month. His works are being exhibited and discussed internationally and he is currently Assistant Arts Professor at Tisch School of Arts, NYU."
-Regine, We Make Money not Art May 12, 2009

Quiet Revolutions
"Wafaa Bilal, an artist and NYU professor originally from Iraq, spoke first last night on the panel entitled Quiet Revolutions In Storytelling, co-sponsored by Witness, a non-profit organization which uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. . . Despite having some rather brilliant friends who work in computer media of various kinds, I have never fully grasped what they are talking about when they wax poetic about 'participation' and 'user control' and things in this vein. On this occasion, I grasped immediately, viscerally, what was implied. A lump popped into my throat, and tears filled my eyes. I thought, to myself: yes. This is the final frontier of revolution: the individual conscience."
-Stacey Engels, Untied States of AM May 1, 2009

The Current

" We started this segment with a clip from Wafaa Bilal. He's an Iraq-born artist and he's describing an interactive art project he staged in 2007 called "Domestic Tension." For a month, he confined himself to an enclosed space in the Flatfile Galleries in Chicago. Then he let anyone with an internet connection fire a paintball gun at him by remote control."

-Anna Maria Tremonti, CBC Radio Mar 16, 2009

Bob Edwards Hour
Feb 6, 2009

Doroob article in Arabic about Shoot an Iraqi

عاش الفنان وفاء بلال طفولته وشبابه المبكر في العراق، في الكوفة. عايش حربين مدمرتين، حرب الخليج الأولى والثاني، ثم بعيد ذلك، انتفاضة الشعب العرا"قي ضدّ دكتاتورية نظام صدام حسين في العام 1991. وفي أعقاب الانتفاضة، يمّم شطر الحدود السعودية، فلفّه غبار وظلام معكسر الأرطاوية في السعودية، فقضّى مدة هتاك. حلّ لاجئاً في الولايات المتحدة الأميركية في العام 1992، ومنذ اللحظة الأولى، بدأ يرمّم بنيانه، حتى صنع نفسه من جديد، وهو الآن فنان وأستاذ مساعد في قسم التصوير في جامعة نيويورك" 

-Hassan Nadhem, Doroob Feb 6, 2009

Artist turns target while living history

"In 'Regarding the Pain of Others,' Susan Sontag revised her thoughts on the power of war photography to make us feel war. 'Look, the photographs say, this is what it's like.' Still, after spending time in war zones herself, Sontag concluded: 'We don't get it. We truly can't imagine what it was like.'

In 2007, Wafaa Bilal was painfully aware of this chasm -- indeed, he straddled it. As war ripped his country apart, the Iraqi performance artist was teaching classes at the University of Chicago. On Friday nights he attended art openings, sipped wine. His guilt was overwhelming. But one day it turned to anguish: An unmanned U.S. Predator drone had killed his militant brother. Racked by grief, profoundly disturbed by the complacency of those around him, Bilal launched 'Domestic Tension,' a Web-based performance piece about war and violence and the spectacle of it. For 30 days, he lived inside a plexiglass-walled room and allowed Web browsers to shoot at him with a robotically trained paint pellet gun, which they could control from their keyboards thousands of miles away."

-John Freeman, Star Tribune Jan 27, 2009

Wafaa Bilal on Blog Talk Radio

Listen to an interview with Wafaa Bilal, author of Shoot an Iraqi on Blog Talk Radio's literary show, Onword.

-Miguel Sanchez, Onword Feb 1, 2009

Shoot an Iraqi or Truth About Avoiding Scams

"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 United States to become a professor and a successful artist, but when his brother was killed at a checkpoint in Iraq in 2005, he decided to use his art to confront those in the comfort zone with the realities of life in a conflict zone."

-Computer Animation Books Jan 22, 2009

Interview with Wafaa Bilal on Cat Radio Café

An interview with author/artist Wafaa Bilal on Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance his book about an interactive performance piece. Listen online!

-Cat Radio Café Jan 12, 2009

War Games

"Wafaa Bilal got famous by shutting himself in a room with an automated paintball gun pointed right at him. The gun was hooked up to the Internet, and viewers could shoot Bilal with yellow paint—an opportunity more than 60,000 Web users took advantage of.

The installation, Domestic Tension, at Chicago's Flatfile Gallery from May 4 to June 15, 2007, was a product of Bilal’s experiences growing up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule and a response to the 2003 invasion, in which his brother was killed by an American bomb. In October, I interviewed Bilal about his new book—written with Kari Lydersen and called Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun. My piece, "Post Artistic Stress Disorder," ran in the Reader’s fall books issue on October 30. But the conversation I had with Bilal has many other points of interest than the ones I was able to include there, so here it is in its (somewhat edited) entirety."

-Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader Jan 8, 2009

Wafaa Bilal

"Wafaa Bilal, the controversial and acclaimed Iraqi-American performance artist most famous for his Domestic Tension piece (in which he lived in a gallery for days and internet users could log into his website, chat and shoot him with a paintball gun), has written an autobiography, Shoot an Iraqi. Bilal spoke to the Dig about the intersection of art, politics, dialogue and the personal. He'll read from Shoot an Iraqi tonight at Brookline Booksmith at 7pm."

-Cara Bayles, Weekly Dig

Network Performance Daily: Best of 2008

"Recreational Network Traffic, Wafaa Bilal and Untraceable - The Movie. Pam gave me a little sumo wrestler toy if I promised not to mention "Teeth" again."

-Network Performance Daily Dec 31, 2008

Gaming's 15 Most Fascinating People of 2008

"Wafaa Bilal - In an effort to show his belief that American foreign policy actually encourages terrorist recruitment, Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal's controversial Virtual Jihadi game puts the player in control of a reluctant suicide bomber who must target President Bush. The game was at the center of a free speech controversy when Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in upstate New York invited him to display Virtual Jihadi but abruptly un-invited him when campus Republicans protested. Bilal (left), a naturalized American citizen, then set up shop in a small, off-campus art gallery, but Republican city officials closed the place down, dubiously citing building code violations. The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the city."

-GetmoGames Dec 31, 2008

My Most Favorite Things of 2008

"THE PAINTBALL PROJECT (2007, Wafaa Bilal, USA/Iraq) http://www.youtube.com/user/mewafaa "

-Limitless Cinema Dec 30, 2008

Myartspace Artist Quotes: Some quotes from the 2008 series of artist interviews

"It's not what we go through in life, it's what we make of it. Understanding that hate can only generate more hate and anger, I try to stay away from messages of hate and aggression because that alienates the viewer instead of engaging" -- Wafaa Bilal

-Myartspace Dec 30, 2008

PRI's The World: Technology Podcast 224

"Next up, an interesting segment called 'Shoot an Iraqi.' Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal created a work of art he calls Domestic Tension. From the Internet, users can aim a paintball bun and shoot him. Internet users can also just choose to chat with him instead. We have an interview with Bilal, but here's a quick moving slideshow from Day 2 of his project to give you a taste."

-Clark Boyd, Etherized Dec 21, 2008

Shoot an Iraqi?

"An Iraqi artist in Chicago made himself the human target for a live Internet shooting gallery. People around the globe took aim and fired real paintballs at him, 24 hours a day, for a month. Artist Wafaa Bilal tells Marco Werman why he did it."

-PRI's The World Dec 19, 2008

Art Bikes Cats

"I've read some great and powerful books this year, but this is by far the most important. Wafaa has provided insight to an international audience the incalculable effects of living with war, and he demonstrates how art is interlaced through every facet of life. As an American living a comfortable and easy life, there is nothing I can write here that will do justice to what this book means. Without a doubt Shoot an Iraqi is a must-read. For everyone."

-Cody G. Dec 19, 2008

Wafaa Bilal

"Just heard about this artist on The World."

-Alex, The Engaged Observer Dec 19, 2008

Shoot an Iraqi

"A stunning program yesterday on KPBS about an installation/performance by artist Wafaa Bilal which took place in 2007 in an internet gallery in Chicago. Wafaa Bilal made himself the human target for a live internet shooting gallery. People around the globe took aim and fired real paintballs at him for a month."

-Michele Guieu, inspiration, etc Dec 19, 2008

Shoot and Iraqi, Wafaa Bilal

"Recent SAIC professor and Chicago artist, Wafaa Bilal, (known for his work reprogramming a video game to shoot President Bush instead of Saddam Hussein, among other controversial works), was on today's The Leonard Lopate Show. Hear about his intense life and work here. See an great audio slideshow here. Visit his website here. He is also on The World Friday, December 19.

'Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal’s attempts to create a dialogue between Iraqis and American include being shot at tens of thousands of times by a paintball gun fired over the internet, and trying to blow up an Iraqi farmhouse he built at an art colony in California. His new memoir is Shoot an Iraqi.'"

-Jeremiah, Plural Blog Dec 18, 2008

Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension

"Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal spent an entire month living in a Chicago art gallery where he had rigged a webcam and remote controlled paintball gun which visitors online or at the actual gallery could use to shoot at him. The piece highlighted the danger everyday Iraqi citizens face both in terms of actual violence and the vitriol generated by the controversial and geopolitically convoluted war. The experience re-triggered the post-traumatic stress disorder that Bilal had acquired in his home country. The installation as well as his life as an activist, artist, and refugee are documented in his book, Shoot An Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun."

-Gerry Mak, Lost at E Minor Dec 16, 2008

Life Under the Gun

"Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal's attempts to create a dialogue between Iraqis and American include being shot at tens of thousands of times by a paintball gun fired over the internet, and trying to blow up an Iraqi farmhouse he built at an art colony in California. His new memoir is Shoot an Iraqi." 

-The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC Dec 12, 2008

Living History

"In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag revised her thoughts on the power of war photography to make us feel war. 'Look, the photographs say, this is what it's like.' Still, after spending time in war zones herself, Sontag concluded: 'We don't get it. We truly can't imagine what it was like.'

In 2007 Wafaa Bilal was painfully aware of this chasm—indeed, he straddled it. As war ripped his country apart, the Iraqi performance artist was teaching classes at the University of Chicago. On Friday nights he attended art openings, sipped wine. His guilt was overwhelming. But one day it turned to anguish: An unmanned US predator drone had killed his militant brother."

-John Freeman, Jerusalem Post Dec 11, 2008

Shoot an Iraqi, Reviewed

"we make money not art has a short review of Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's book Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun. Based on his experience staging Domestic Tension (explained further in the video below) the book winds through 'refugee camps and experiments in interactive art . . . the political, the art, the activist fields. It is not a novel but it reads like one.'"

-Groundswell Dec 11, 2008

Networking Aesthetics

"As a result of the computer revolution, the world is witnessing an unprecedented shift in modes of social, economic and cultural production. The rise of informational networks as social and economic forms simultaneously contain new possibilities for a democratic society and new threats to individual liberty. Within these networks lie new possibilities for resistance against power, the creation of new forms of subjectivity, collaborations and democracy. But they also contain new forms of disciplinary power, subjugation, exploitation and oppression. Art practitioners working within the realm of digital media must develop a new critical framework for understanding how their work can either work for a liberatory future or merely reinscribe forms of oppression that permeates these networks."

-Nick Lally Dec 8, 2008

Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun

"Shoot an Iraqi is a tale that walks you through refugee camps and experiments in interactive art. It is both a biography of artist Wafaa Bilal and the chronicle of his one-month experience as a paintball target at Flatfile Galleries. The book pertains to the political, the art, the activist fields. It is not a novel but it reads like one."

-Regine, We Make Money Not Art Dec 6, 2008

Wafaa Bilal Talk at EFA Project Space Tonight

"Artist Wafaa Bilal will speak at the EFA Project Space tonight at 7pm. Bilal made headlines earlier this year when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's administration pulled the plug on the exhibition of his project exploring identity and propagandist video games The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi. Bilal then moved the show to the Sanctuary for Independent Media, at which point the city of Troy promptly responded by shutting down the space due to minor infractions. (The short documentary Art Does Not Equal Terrorism follows the entire fiasco.) Tonight Bilal will turn his attention to a previous project from 2007, Domestic Tension, in which he stationed himself for 31 days as a moving target for a robotic paintball machine controlled by users over the internet. Born and raised in Iraq, Bilal's work often deals with the tension involved in belonging to two opposing territories, the United States and his native country. Journalist David Gargill will moderate the discussion."

-Ceci Moss, Rhizome Dec 9, 2008

Shoot an Iraqi

"Check this out you guys.  Really makes you think.

Would You 'Shoot an Iraqi' in Cyberspace?

For a month Wafaa Bilal lived in a cell with a paintball gun pointed at him, controlled by an internet audience who could shoot at him 24 hours a day."

- Into the Mind of an Introverted Extrovert Dec 5, 2008

"Shoot an Iraqi" in Cyberspace?
"For a month Wafaa Bilal lived in a cell with a paintball gun pointed at him, controlled by an internet audience who could shoot at him 24 hours a day.
Last spring, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal moved into a cordoned area set up in the back of a Chicago art gallery, where he would remain for one month. The makeshift cell contained a computer, desk, bed, lamp, coffee table, and stationary bike (which, like most stationary bikes, went untouched). Facing him was a paintball gun with an attached webcam. With the help of friends, an interactive system was designed in which users could log on to the Internet, aim the gun, and fire. For the month, Bilal was an around-the-clock target, offering himself up to anyone wanting to 'shoot an Iraqi.'"
 
-Gabriel Thompson, AlterNet Dec 4, 2008

Middle East Madness: Would You "Shoot an Iraqi" in Cyberspace?
"For a month Wafaa Bilal lived in a cell with a paintball gun pointed at him, controlled by an internet audience who could shoot at him 24 hours a day."
 
-Signs of the Times Dec 4, 2008

Shoot An Iraqi: Book rec of the day
"When his brother was killed at a U.S. checkpoint in 2005, [Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal] 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 Merry Punditocracy Dec 2, 2008

Worldview - Shoot an Iraqi
An interview with Wafaa Bilal, author of Shoot an Iraqi, on Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.
-Worldview, Chicago Public Radio Nov 14, 2008

Shoot an Iraqi (from the comfort of your own home?)
"That's what artist Wafaa Bilal invited web surfers to do in 2007. The gun was a paint gun. The Iraqi was him."
-:Vocalo.org Nov 14, 2008

An Iraqi Artist Explains His Cyber-Masochism
"Is Wafaa Bilal an artist or simply a masochistic attention whore? The Iraqi artist spent a month in a gallery last year, with a webcam and a paintball gun connected to the Internet, letting people from 136 countries shoot 65,000 paintballs at him 24 hours a day. Was this a publicity stunt? A soul-searching art installation? Therapy for Bilal's suffering at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his brother and father's deaths in the U.S. invasion? Bilal's just published a book about his experience, and it sheds a bit of light on his futuristic experimental warzone."
-Charlie Jane Anders, io9 Nov 5, 2008

Post Artistic Stress Disorder
"A and a half ago, Wafaa Bilal made himself one of Chicago's best-known artists when he shut himself in a room at Flatfile Galleries in front of a paintball gun. The gun could be controlled remotely, over the Internet, and Web surfers and gallery visitors alike could aim and fire it, blasting Bilal with yellow paint. By the end of the project, titled Domestic Tension, more than 60,000 people had shot at him from more than 130 countries, and he had been featured in media outlets from NPR to Newsweek. He was also a wreck."
-Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader Oct 30, 2008

The terror of imagination
"A more complicated take on terrorism — and not just a statement on decentred, global terror or an expression of despair at the random butchery and loss of life — is Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal's Virtual Jihadi, a 'hacked' version of the popular video game Quest for Saddam. In Wafaa’s version, which created endless controversy and was ultimately (and controversially) banned, the artist casts himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to assassinate President Bush.

For Domestic Tension, a performative installation, Bilal spent a month in a prison cell-sized room in a gallery in Chicago in May 2007. Visitors were invited to shoot paintball guns at him — yellow for the 'support your troops' ribbons. In all, 60,000 people shot him, and hackers programmed the gun to fire automatically!"
-Rrishi Raote, Business Standard Sep 20, 2008

Target practice
"'It's amazing how many people are shooting,' an antic Wafaa Bilal says into a webcam as the staccato thwack of a paintball gun ricochets like meagre thunder through the white cube he calls home. 'This is probably the heaviest shooting we've witnessed, and although it's Memorial Day, you can’t just blame it on the United States,' he continues. 'France, Denmark, Ireland, UK, Canada, so it’s not one place – almost global shooting.'"
-David Gargill, The National Aug 7, 2008

Virtual Jihadi
"His medium of choice? A videogame.

Wafaa Bilal, the person in question, is no terrorist. Rather, he's the artist behind Virtual Jihadi, a controversial videogame art installation shut down twice in March. Virtual Jihadi's subject matter -- which includes the assassination of President George W. Bush -- sparked a furious debate over whether or not videogames count as art."
-Lara Crigger, 1Up.com Jul 31, 2008

'Kill Bush' game stirs debate
Watch a video news clip about Wafaa Bilal's controversial art exhibit "Virtual Jihadi."
-MSNBC Jul 31, 2008

These games really push our buttons
"Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi-born-Chicago-based artist, was recently accused of promoting terrorism when he began showing his game 'Virtual Jihadi' at art galleries. The game puts players in the role of a suicide bomber tasked with killing President Bush. But Bilal insists instead that he wanted to raise awareness about the civilian toll in Iraq and show that many Iraqis 'have been forced by the consequences of the invasion to become suicide bombers.'"
-Winda Benedetti, MSNBC Jul 30, 2008

Why Wafaa?
"Wafaa Bilal, one of the most controversial and notorious professors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will leave SAIC this fall for New York University. Born in Najaf, Iraq, he fled the country in 1991 after being arrested as a dissident for creating artwork critical of Saddam Hussein, as well as organizing groups in opposition to the invasion of Kuwait. . .This year Bilal's work Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihad, a video game in which the artist appears as a suicide bomber who is sent on a mission to kill President George W. Bush, became the center of much media controversy after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shut down the exhibition in response to concerns expressed by the campus College Republicans. The College Republicans asserted that showing the work supported ' terrorist.' In addition to his art he has given lectures on the regime of Saddam Hussein. In a personal statement Bilal wrote, 'I use my art to provoke a more sophisticated discussion of the political situation.'"
-Rachel Sima Harris, FNews Magazine Jul 22, 2008

Artist's Video Game Plays At Assassinating President
"An artist's controversial video game is currently running in Chicago after being shut down on its opening day in New York.

The game is part of a 'confrontational art' exhibit by Chicago-based artist Wafaa Bilal."
-NBC5 Jul 11, 2008

5 Things to Learn About Wafaa Bilal
Chicago Tribune critic Alan G. Artner offers readers five insights (among others) into Wafaa Bilal's art and life.
-Alan G. Artner, Chicago Tribune Jun 29, 2008

The art of war: FLATFILEgalleries shows Wafaa Bilal's latest explosive work.
"The last time he had a show at FLATFILEgalleries in the West Loop, Wafaa Bilal was shot at approximately 60,000 times. In his twice-censored project Virtual Jihadi, which appears in FLATFILE’s 'Freedom of Speech' exhibition beginning Friday 20, Bilal does the shooting himself."
-Lauren Weinberg, Time Out Chicago Jun 25, 2008

From Time Out Chicago Blog
"When Wafaa Bilal asked us to shoot an Iraqi, no one objected. In fact, he received international acclaim.
 
As part of his 2007 interactive project Domestic Tension, Bilal spent a month at FLATFILEgalleries in the West Loop, where he lived, worked, and dodged more than 65,000 paintballs. To call attention to the everyday violence plaguing Iraqi civilians, Bilal—a native of Iraq who now teaches at the School of the Art Institute had set up a website that allowed visitors to chat with him or blast him with a paint gun. Many shot first and apologized later, after seeing the website's video footage of an increasingly frazzled Bilal confined to his wrecked makeshift bedroom. Inviting us to pretend to shoot American soldiers, however, has landed Bilal in a firestorm of controversy."
-Usama, :Vocalo.org Apr 2, 2008

Letters of support for Wafaa Bilal
"What is the role of art, let alone education, if it is not to encourage public discussion about pressing issues of our time?"
-Free Troy Letters Mar 28, 2008

Free Speech? Not in Troy, N.Y.
"An exhibit by Iraqi-born digital media artist Wafaa Bilal at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, a suburb of Albany, was suspended by school administrators earlier this month 'pending a more complete review of its origin, content, and intent.' The school’s president, Shirley Jackson, closed the show under pressure from Campus Republicans—who claimed that Bilal was a threat to national security."
-Harold Niver, People's Weekly World Mar 18, 2008

Wafaa Bilal's Response to President Jackson Regarding the Closure of his Exhibit
"In these difficult times, when we are at war with another nation, it is our duty as artists and citizens to improvise strategies of engagement for dialogue. This platform is a piece of fiction that uses the video game format to create alternative narratives and perspectives."
-Wafaa Bilal Mar 18, 2008

Troy exhibit supporters to picket city hall
"A new group, the Capital Region Committee for Free Expression, plans to picket city hall Tuesday to protest city officials' shuttering of an art gallery last week.

The city ordered the Sanctuary for Independent Media closed for code violations last Tuesday, a day after Chicago artist Wafaa Bilal's "Virtual Jihadi" video game and exhibit debuted."
-Bob Gardinier, Times Union Mar 17, 2008

SAIC's Wafaa Bilal Censored

"When Wafaa Bilal asked us to shoot an Iraqi, no one objected. In fact, he received international acclaim.

As part of his 2007 interactive project Domestic Tension, Bilal spent a month at FLATFILEgalleries in the West Loop, where he lived, worked, and dodged more than 65,000 paintballs. To call attention to the everyday violence plaguing Iraqi civilians, Bilal—a native of Iraq who now teaches at the School of the Art Institute had set up a website that allowed visitors to chat with him or blast him with a paint gun. Many shot first and apologized later, after seeing the website’s video footage of an increasingly frazzled Bilal confined to his wrecked makeshift bedroom. Inviting us to pretend to shoot American soldiers, however, has landed Bilal in a firestorm of controversy."

-Laura Weinberg, Time Out Chicago Mar 17, 2008

Art censorship alive and well in America: Wafaa Bilal installation shut down twice
"Wafaa Bilal has done it again – his latest art installation Virtual Jihadi has caused an uproar in Troy, New York. The show opened on March 6 at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute (RPI) which promptly (the day after the opening) shut the installation down. After reopening a few days later at a another local gallery, city officials closed the gallery citing bylaw infractions.

The artwork in question shows Bilal appearing as a character in a tweaked version of the video game The Night of Bush Capturing, a video game that was produced by Al Queda in response to the U.S. made video game Quest for Saddam. Bilal hacked the source code and wrote himself into the script.

-Michael Lithgow, Art Threat Mar 17, 2008

First-Person Shooter Turns Political
"War will become more like a video game, and vice versa, as computer-controlled weapons systems become more advanced and civilians can watch wars in progress online. So Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal is forcing people to confront the boundaries between wars and games, with one art installation that allows people to shoot paintballs at him via the Internet, and another which inserts him into an anti-George Bush video game."
-Charlie Jane Anders, io9 Mar 17, 2008

Hello Beautiful!
"Wafaa Bilal's latest installation in upstate New York has been shutdown not once, but twice this month. The established multimedia artist shares his amazing journey from Iraq to Chicago, and why his work always seems to stir up controversy."
-Chicago Public Radio Mar 16, 2008

Safety? Or censorship?
"Who was that leading the charge in Troy the other night denouncing a video artist's depiction of himself as a suicide bomber out to kill President Bush?

Robert Mirch, of course -- outraged citizen, city public works commissioner, majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature, among other things.

And just who's ultimately responsible for restricting public access to the building where the video exhibit was on display, on building code violations that first were cited 14 months ago, long before Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi' became the featured attraction?

Mr. Mirch, of course. He's everywhere in Troy."

-Times Union Mar 15, 2008

Shut exhibit raises questions about the role of provocative art on campus
"The ongoing controversy over the 'Virtual Jihadi' video game and art exhibit, which was banished by top Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute officials on opening night, has colleges across the Capital Region re-examining the importance of art—and free speech—on campus. . .RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson ordered "Virtual Jihad" shut down last Friday, based on the fact that artist Wafaa Bilal appropriated the game from a terrorist organization."
-Danielle Furfaro, Times Union Mar 14, 2008

'Jihadi' venue closure could spur lawsuit
"Civil rights activists will meet today with the Sanctuary for Independent Media to discuss whether the organization wants to sue the city of Troy for closing the arts center shortly after a controversial art exhibit premiered.

The city inspected the Sanctuary's building at 3361 Sixth Ave. after receiving complaints Monday that it violated zoning and code regulations. The city closed the building to mass gatherings Tuesday, citing safety reasons.

The Sanctuary was showing the controversial 'Virtual Jihadi,' a video game and art exhibit by digital artist Wafaa Bilal that was closed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and drew local protesters."

-Kenneth C. Crowe, Times Union Mar 13, 2008

A few words with Wafaa Bilal
"My underlying premise for this piece is that hate is being taught—it's not a natural emotion. And video games are one of the technologies being used to foster and teach hate. I am especially concerned by the ones created by the US military, which are intended to brainwash and influence young minds to become violent. Though Al Qaeda's game where Bush is hunted down and killed generated much international outrage, the U.S. Army's own free on-line game is equal to the Night of Bush Capturing in its propaganda motives. Since I belong to both nations fighting in this current war, and since I am an American, I have the ability and right to question my own government's use of these video games to teach violence and hatred."

-Regine, we make money not art Mar 12, 2008

Troy shutters site of 'Jihadi' video game
"The controversial "Virtual Jihadi" video game and art exhibit has now had two very short premieres.

Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi' video game exhibit that features himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to assassinate President Bush opened last night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media and this morning the city shuttered the building for code violations."
-Bob Gardinier, Times Union Mar 11, 2008

"Art, Freedom, Democracy" Series Closed By City of Troy
"An art installation closed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last Thursday (March 5) was shut down by the City of Troy the morning of March 11, a day after it re-opened at The Sanctuary for Independent Media.

Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi' piece is the centerpiece of a month-long celebration of art, freedom and democracy at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, which features Iraqi-born digital media artist Wafaa Bilal, culture jammers The Yes Men, film maker Pam Yates and the Critical Art Ensemble's Professor Steve Kurtz. The City of Troy's order to close The Sanctuary for Independent Media jeopardizes the entire 'Art, Freedom, Democracy' series, which focuses on government intimidation and censorship under the guise of counter-terrorism."
-The Sanctuary for Independent Media Mar 11, 2008

'Virtual Jihadi' Leaves RPI; Controversy Doesn't
"Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced Monday that it would not permit the re-opening of a controversial video exhibit that the university suspended last week. RPI's announcement — both the decision and the way it was explained — infuriated the artist and art professors, who moved the video to a gallery off the campus. There, students who are active in the College Republicans at RPI followed them to picket and protest outside, while others streamed in to see the show.

At issue is a work called 'Virtual Jihadi,' which is the latest in a series of video games inspired by the Iraq war. In the first, 'Quest for Saddam,' players tried to capture the deposed and since executed leader of Iraq. That game inspired an Al Qaeda version called "The Night of Bush Capturing," which features players trying to kill the American president. In 'Virtual Jihadi,' a player based on the life of the artist — Wafaa Bilal, an artist-in-residence at RPI — becomes a character in a game based on the Al Qaeda version."
-Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed Mar 11, 2008

Suspended RPI exhibit will not re-open
"Officials at RPI have decided not to re-open an exhibit that shows the artist as a suicide bomber.

Wafaa Bilal is a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago and was invited to the college as part of a visiting artists program. His exhibit was suspended last week by RPI officials after he said he hacked into the al-Qaeda game and inserted himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to kill President Bush."

-Capital 9 News Mar 11, 2008

Furor follows exhibit
"Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expelled a visiting artist's exhibition on Monday as arguments continued about academic freedom and free speech on campus.

However, Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi' video game exhibit, which features himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to assassinate President Bush, opened Monday night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. It will remain on view at the performance and exhibit space at 3361 Sixth Ave. through April 4."
-Kenneth C. Crowe, Times Union Mar 11, 2008

Wafaa Bilal censored at RPI
"Iraqi American video artist Wafaa Bilal's recent exhibition at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, Virtual Jihadi, was closed by the University's administration a day after its initial opening on 5 March 2008. A conservative commentator on the state payroll called for protests to Bilal's exhibition before its opening in the pages of the Troy Record, citing a work based on an incendiary video game exhibited in a university art gallery."
-B. Blagojević, ArtCal Zine Mar 10, 2008

Chicago artist's display is shut down
"A controversial video show developed by a Chicago-based artist has been shut down less than a day after it opened in Troy, N.Y.

The work, 'Virtual Jihadi' mimicked a video game and featured a three-dimensional image of the Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal dressed as a suicide bomber, The Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

Using a keyboard and mouse, the show allowed viewers to shoot American soldiers. The object was to penetrate a bunker and kill President Bush with Bilal's avatar available to blow himself up next to the president."
-United Press International Mar 10, 2008

Iraqi-Born Artist's "Virtual Jihadi" Work Shut Down
"Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal is claiming censorship after his Virtual Jihadi video artwork was shut down by officials at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
 
'I personally think it is censorship,' Bilal, who is also a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said of his work being taken down. 'I think it is being shut down permanently.' He added that Virtual Jihadi is not meant to advocate terrorism or violence against Bush, but to be a 'platform for conversation' to raise awareness about the reality of war in Iraq."
-ARTINFO Mar 10, 2008

Mirch: Virtual Jihadi
"Bob Mirch, the GOP majority leader in the Rensselaer County Legislature, is for free speech, according to his latest press release.

But Mirch says he is not in favor of pretending to blow up the president of the United States.

Those two beliefs have led Mirch to organize a protest, scheduled for tonight, at the Sanctuary for Independent Media – the new home of the controversial art exhibit 'Virtual Jihadi,' which was suspended from RPI last week.

In the video-game-based exhibit, the artist, Wafaa Bilal, plays a suicide bomber on a mission to kill the commander-in-chief."

-Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, Times Union Mar 10, 2008

Artist claims 'censorship'
"After being splattered with paintballs in a Chicago gallery last year, Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal intended his follow-up piece, 'Virtual Jihadi,' to show how it feels to be the hunted instead of the hunter.

But the video work—which features an electronic 'avatar' of the Chicago-based artist dressed as a suicide bomber—was shut down Thursday by officials of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., after it had been open less than a day."
-Stevenson Swanson, Chicago Tribune Mar 10, 2008

Art and the College Administrator
"Last week's incidents at RPI focused on art inspired by events in Iraq. Wafaa Bilal, the artist who was escorted from a classroom last week and whose video art was blocked from being shown, was born in Iraq. He fled in 1991, at the age of 23, after objecting to the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein. An artist who works in many media, Bilal is an adjunct at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In an interview Friday, he said that while he uses his art to criticize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he also opposed Hussein’s rule and opposes terrorism in Iraq or elsewhere."
-Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed Mar 10, 2008

Terror-Themed Game Suspended
Iraq-Born Artist Asserts Censorship After Exhibit is Shut Down

In the video game that Wafaa Bilal created, his avatar is steely-eyed and hooded, with an automatic rifle at his side, an ammunition belt around his waist, a fuse in his hand and the mien of a knightly suicide-bomber. He is the "Virtual Jihadi."

The Iraqi-born, Chicago-based artist said he adapted his game from an earlier version made by al-Qaeda's media branch to raise questions about Americans' conceptions of the enemy in Iraq.

His work was briefly exhibited Thursday night at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. The game was projected on a giant screen so that one viewer at a time could play -- until administrators shut down the show Friday morning. The institute needed time to review the show's "origin, content and intent," said William N. Walker, a vice president.

To Bilal, who said he was arrested several times for his artwork in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it was censorship...

 

-Robin Shulman, Washington Post Mar 8, 2008

Controversial RPI exhibit finds new home
"The Sanctuary for Independent Media on Monday will display an exhibition dropped by RPI over concerns it might be based on the work of terrorists.

The university suspended Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi.' In it, Bilal portrays himself as a suicide bomber sent on a mission to assassinate President Bush. Bilal hacked into an al-Qaida online game called 'The Night of Bush Capturing' for his exhibit. The game was created as a reaction to a similar online game, called 'Quest for Saddam,' where players targeted the late Iraqi dictator."
-Times Union Mar 8, 2008

RPI suspends 'Virtual Jihadi'
"RPI has suspended a visiting artist's exhibition because of concerns it suggests violence against President Bush and may be based on the work of terrorists, a top administrator said Thursday.

The move capped a chain of events—including claims the FBI was eyeing the artist—that began last month when the College Republicans blasted the arts department as 'a terrorist safe haven.'

The work that provoked that attack is Wafaa Bilal's 'Virtual Jihadi.' It's the latest piece by a Chicago-based video artist who is testing the limits of academic freedom in a time of war at a Troy school that receives millions in Pentagon research funding."
-Marc Parry, Times Union Mar 7, 2008

The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi
Wafaa Bilal's exhibit The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been "suspended." Send a letter of support at http://freetroyletters.wordpress.com/
-Wafaa Bilal Mar 6, 2008

"Virtual Jihadi" Spins "Hunt for Bush" with Suicide Bomber Angle
"Now Wafaa Bilal, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has hacked 'Quest for Bush' to insert himself as a suicide bomber. According to the promotional iEAR site, 'after learning of the real-life death of his brother in the war, [Bilal] is recruited by Al Qaeda to join the hunt for Bush.'"
-Matt Peckham, PC World Mar 3, 2008

Interview: Wafaa Bilal casts himself as terrorist in Virtual Jihadi
"You may not remember the name Wafaa Bilal, but you probably remember the Iraqi-American who locked himself in a room with a painball gun controlled by random individuals on the Internet for thirty days—that was him, and it’s now nine months later and he’s unable to sleep at night without medicine. Now Bilal has a new controversial art piece that has caused the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s College Republicans to call the college’s Arts department a 'terrorist safe haven' for exhibiting it."
-Brian Boyko, Geeks are Sexy Mar 3, 2008