Sunday, May 13, 2007

Art Space News: Can you hit Wafaa Bilal?

A controversial installation in Chicago is causing a worldwide stir. Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi American artist, has made himself the target of a paintball gun in order to express his concern over the war in Iraq. Viewers are allowed to shoot Mr. Bilal with a paintball gun while he stands practically defenseless.

Mr. Bilal has stated that he is trying to convey what life is like in Iraq for the common civilian. “There is a constant threat here, and part of this project is to put myself in harm's way in order to get closer to what my family is going through,” Bilal said.

Mr. Bilal plans to live in the project space at Flatline Galleries for 45 days. At any given moment, he can be shot by the paintball gun since people can take part in the “Domestic Tension" exhibit by visiting a website that Mr. Bilal is involved with (

Website visitors can actually point to where they want to fire. Ironically some participants refuse to fire and others have actually tried to defend Mr. Bilal. Thus, the installation reveals various sides of human nature.

What do you think about this installation? Does it convey the message that Mr. Bilal set out for? What do you think about him utilizing the internet as a part of his installation? Will his project make a difference? I want to read your opinions about Mr. Bilal's installation.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Thanks brian for the blog.

If this installation fascinates the public it would solely be because it’s un-PC. The approach is more self-centered than thought-provoking to his viewers. His intention to challenge society to oppose the invasion in the Middle East is weakened by the laid back attitude; I have yet think what he’ll be like on Day 24.
Yes, it’s art, whether its quality art – I guess it’s subjective. He lacks a depth for it to be controversial. The concept of him being bruised by high powered shots of paint does not amuse me – in fact it raises questions to whether he values life, quality of life. I do not object to artist with a focus on poverty and injustice – take example, Banksy’s pink elephant exhibition last Autumn; the animal’s welfare is cared for. Mr. Bilal however is allowing infliction, what does this seed? It sends a self absorbed message concealed by a thin layer of “…to put myself in harm’s way in order to get closer to what my family is going through.” Idiom. I somewhat feel skeptical about his intentions, however, if something good or change is made – then maybe his self approved pain infliction is not a waste, just maybe.
any thoughts?

Balhatain said...

So, in a sense, you feel that his project does not capture anything of use or that perhaps it is actually making a mockery of the danger Iraqis live in.

Personally, I can see the message he is trying to convey, but I think it could have been done in a stronger manner.

Paint does not equal bullets. Perhaps an installation involving real pictures of the Iraqi dead would have made a stronger point?

For example, if the installation area was lined with life-size images of the dead I think it would have really caused people to react.

Instead the installation comes off as some form of fun game for people to play at the expense of the artist.

Anonymous said...

well put. yeah, i agree. he def could have used a wiser and more creative choice in medium.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the other commentators. But perhaps their statements make it clear that such a work will only resonate with people who understand, experience or avow forms of physical and psychological torture from insomnia, trauma, disability and the like. Forms of pain do not have to be commensurate for solidarity to exist. Despite differences, solidarity is possible once a global situation of suffering and privation in its many forms is recognized.

When I hear of this kind of art, I imagine an artist whose pain and experience of the implications of Iraq and empire are already ceaseless. It seems to me that this kind of pain and ongoing annoyance (in the worst sense of disrupting thinking or any of the necessities of inner life) could only have been taken up if the artist had already found inner life and comfort already destroyed by normalizing reality.