Art That Matters, Pt. 2

I’ve been thinking about how to organize this place a little better. It seems to me that breaking the coverage up into prescribed days might be a good habit to get into. Of course, given my irregular posting schedule, this might be a bit pie-in-the-sky. In any event, I’m going to try to cover politics during the week, perhaps with Quick Hits coming on Fridays, and leave the Art writing for the weekends. Now, that may change as circumstances warrant, but it might help me to organize my content for YOU, my esteemed readers.

copyright 2010 Wafaa Bilal

"...and Counting"

All that said, I direct you now to the amazing work of New York based Iraqi artist, Wafaa Bilal. The project that first attracted my attention was Domestic Tension from 2007. The performance was a month long confinement of the artist that was broadcast via the internet to the world. During the month, Bilal chatted with people while holed up in his self-constructed cell. This relatively benign confinement was made into something else entirely by this one fact: visitors to his website could choose to operate a paint ball gun and shoot at the artist. A pretty stock “cell” performance was thus transformed into a disturbing reflection on conflict and technology. He kept a video blog of the entire 30 day ordeal which you can visit here. I can only imagine the mental fatigue of being at the mercy of the anonymous internet for a whole month and his videos make clear what a harrowing experience it was. Of course, the piece is meant to deal with the even more gruesome situation of countless citizens of Baghdad and the anxiety of being trapped in their own homes while war and violence reigns supreme outside the walls. The piece was inspired by his brother’s death at the hands of shrapnel during conflict in Najaf.

His current work is in the same vein, although it takes an even more personal tack. …And Counting is a border-less map of Iraq tattooed on the artist’s back, with a dot for every coalition and Iraqi death thus far. Considering that there have been over 5,000 coalition and an estimated 10,000 Iraqi deaths makes this an intense physical ordeal. Bilal is no stranger to pain, having lived under Saddam’s regime, and so it is only natural to use his body as the medium for his work. Although I find the paint ball piece to be much more disturbing and effective, I think ...And Counting is powerful in its own right.

I’m very excited when artists with direct connections to conflict and violence use their experiences as raw material. I’ve long maintained that art is meant to deal with our world in an engaging and challenging way and especially the aspects of it that are disturbing. Bilal brings his life into his art with an eye towards raising awareness of serious  issues at which viewers may other wise balk. It’s no question that living through the trauma of war is difficult; bringing that experience into the practice of art brings with it a whole new level of difficulty. Wafaa Bilal handles the controversy of such an act quite well. He achieves a delicate balance between art and activism that should be an example to artists everywhere.

(via We Make Money Not Art)


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