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Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun
     

Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun

by Wafaa Bilal, Kari Lydersen (Contribution by)
 

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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 by an unmanned U.S. Predator drone, he decided

Overview

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 by an unmanned U.S. Predator drone, he decided to use his art to confront those in the comfort zone with the realities of life in a conflict zone.

His response was “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 twenty-four hours a day. The project received overwhelming worldwide attention and spawned provocative online debates; ultimately, Bilal was named Chicago Tribune’s Artist of the Year.

Structured in two parallel narratives, the story of Bilal’s life journey and his “Domestic Tension” experience, Shoot an Iraqi is for anyone who seeks insight into the current conflict in Iraq and for those fascinated by interactive art technologies and the ever-expanding world of online gaming.

"Once I picked up this book, 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

"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

"Who in their right mind would allow the internet to shoot at them? Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life, and the Resistance Under the Gun tells the story of Wafaa Bilal. When his brother was killed by an unmanned Military device during the Iraq war, Bilal took it locked himself in a room, a camera showing him to the world with a remote controlled paintball gun connected to the internet, in the name of art and political statement. Bilal explains himself quite well, making Shoot an Iraqi fascinating reading." —Midwest Book Review

"Weaving together accounts of Iraq and America, art and violence, performance and reality, past and present, this gripping account all but shakes the reader by the lapels." —Publishers Weekly

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal has exhibited his art worldwide, and traveled and lectured extensively to inform audiences of the situation of the Iraqi people, and the importance of peaceful conflict resolution. Bilal's 2007 dynamic installation "Domestic Tension" gained global recognition, being named Artist of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. Bilal has held exhibitions in Baghdad, the Netherlands, Thailand and Croatia; as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum and various other US galleries. His residencies have included Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California; Catwalk in New New York; and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Editorial Reviews

Art Threat
"Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun . . . illustrates inspiring possibilities for contemporary art to address key issues facing the world today, a call to action for the art world." (Stefan Christoff)
Publishers Weekly

Weaving together accounts of Iraq and America, art and violence, performance and reality, past and present, this gripping account all but shakes the reader by the lapels. Iraqi-born artist Bilal records the month he spent confined in his 2007 interactive performance piece entitled Domestic Tension, living under constant fire from a chat room-controlled paintball gun 24 hours a day, his every move dogged and determined by the hostility-or benevolence-of his thousands of online viewers. The nerve-rattling conditions were intended to reflect both decades of suffering endured by millions of Iraqis and Bilal's own life and the costs of surviving Saddam's regime, Gulf War bombardment, Sunni-Shia violence, a brutal Saudi refugee camp and, finally, the difficulties and joys of the American immigrant experience. The author emerges as an Iraqi everyman, and his provocative book brilliantly juxtaposes images and time frames to convey the toll of war on Americans and Iraqis: "We may think we are surviving," Bilal writes, "but as I... twist and turn through sleepless nights, flailing between worlds of comfort and conflict, hope and despair, I wonder." (Dec.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Brooklyn Rail
What is most remarkable about Shoot an Iraqi isn't, however, the chronicle of the project that brought him worldwide attention, but the back story. Weaved amid a narrative of the 31-day experiment is a memoir of his life in Iraq and eventual flight to Kuwait and then Saudi Arabia, followed by his attempt to make a new life in the United States."
Booklist
Voted one of the Top 10 Arts Books of the Year 2009: "A staggering memoir by immigrant Iraqi artist Bilal, who staged a performance piece, during which online participants used a computer-controlled paintball gun to 'shoot an Iraqi."
Shelf Awareness
Shoot an Iraqi' is an invaluable work of political art and a clear-eyed view of the profoundly disturbing fate of present-day Iraq.
Newark Star Ledger
Shoot an Iraqi' tells of Iraq's dissolution from a beacon of education in the Middle East to a locust-eaten state, mugged by a dictator and then punished from abroad for his offenses. Neither Bilal's exhibit nor this absorbing book about it can expiate Iraq's condition. Rather, they brilliantly demonstrate the lengths to which one man went to live history, and the disturbing-and occasionally hopeful-things he learned when he invited the entire world to do it with him.
—John Freeman
The Socialist Review
[A] highly readable, moving book.
—Bea Leal
Art Asia Pacific
Most remarkable about this book is the thoroughly candid, unsentimental and non-martyr-making way that Bilal and Lydersen describe his life in the Middle East and the dramatic month in Chicago when he relived through art his own and his two nations' traumas. Lowering his defenses, Bilal offered himself up as the quintessential enemy, and then shared his catharsis with his friends and foes everywhere. That the art of war can cause so much suffering explains why there are so few recruits.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780872864917
Publisher:
City Lights Books
Publication date:
09/01/2008
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,033,912
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

Mary Flanagan
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))
Danny Postel
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)

Meet the Author


Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, has exhibited his art world wide, and lectured extensively to inform audiences of the situation of the Iraqi people. Bilal's latest interactive installation "Domestic Tension" garnered praise in national and international press, including Newsweek and a Chicago Tribune "Artist of the Year" award. Kari Lydersen is a staff writer at The Washington Post Midwest bureau and author of "Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-US Immigration in the Global Age."

Wafaa Bilal is causing a stir in in the art world again, with his latest project "The 3rd I," which includes Bilal surgically implanting a camera in the back his head. Bilal describes this project as "a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience." Mr. Bilal's work will be among one of the inaugural exhibits of Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art in New York City scheduled to open December 2010.

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