Artist Blog: Wafaa Bilal

Wafaa Bilal is an Iraqi-born artist and an Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (MY DREAM SCHOOL I CRY), is known internationally for his on-line performative and interactive works provoking dialogue about international politics and internal dynamics. For his 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could shoot at him over the Internet. The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time” and named him 2008 Artist of the Year. Bilal’s work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the “comfort zone” of the U.S. and his consciousness of the “conflict zone” in Iraq. Using his own body as a medium, Bilal continued to challenge our comfort zone with projects like 3rdi and …and Counting. Bilal’s most recent body of work, Canto III, premiered in a solo booth at the New York Armory Show in 2015 and went on to be shown in the 2015 Venice Biennale.

I like his work because his pieces have a TON of emotional and political emphasis behind what meets the eye. For example his Iraq/Iran, pictured below, seems simple and just pleasant to gaze at, however there is so much meaning behind it which makes the piece interesting and innovative. His website explains, “Iraq/Iran is a text-only green neon sign that constantly switches between spelling “Iraq” and “Iran” in English, rendered in a handwritten fashion. The last letter is the only part of the sign to change, flickering back and forth from “Q” to “N” at a continuous rate. To the viewer’s eye, this transition between letters will be just a blur, and speaks to the simple ways in which societies view and make assumptions about cultures different from their own. The division between the two countries named in Iraq/Iran is here simplified to the difference of just one letter. The transitional act of this flickering character, in its minimal aesthetic, functions as a playful, provocative look at intercultural engagement and assumptions.” I think this is an awesome piece because of how the Q and N are switched to make a statement. iraq-iran

I think it is also cool how he chose the color green. He explains, “The use of the color green for the neon sign has multiple associations. The color, while significant to both Iranian and Iraqi cultures, for instance, appearing prominently in both countries’ flags, also connotes the idea of openness. This, in association with the neon sign itself, lends an informal, playful air to the piece and places it in dialog with the neon signage of other artists such as Tracey Emin and Bruce Nauman. Finally, the neon sign is a format instantly recognizable to the viewer, and thusly is an object able to be interacted with in a manner that is immediate.” Some people might think its only a color, however to the artist it means So much more and I think this is a huge reason why his art is so cool. It feels like he has a backstory and a reason for why he always does what he does- that makes his art so much more meaningful and extraordinary.

Especially for what is going on in the world right now, especially in America, I think he is one of my favorite artist I have researched so far. For me, being a white Jewish woman in America who is dating a Muslim is powerful, and his art work is something I can strive to relate to and to understand one day. I checked out his other work and REALLY enjoyed it.

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