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Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gunby Wafaa Bilal
Synopses & Reviews
Wafaa Bilals 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.
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 twenty-four hours a day. The project received overwhelming worldwide attention, garnering the praise of the Chicago Tribune, which called it one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time,” and Newsweeks assessment breath taking.” It spawned provocative online debates, and ultimately, Bilal was awarded the Chicago Tribunes Artist of the Year Award.
Structured in two parallel narratives, the story of Bilals life journey and his Domestic Tension” experience, this first-person account is supplemented with comments on the history and current political situation in Iraq and the context of Domestic Tension” within the art world, including interviews with art scholars such as Dean of the School of Art at Columbia University, Carol Becker, who also contributes the introduction. Shoot an Iraqi is equally pertinent reading for those who seek insight into the current conflict in Iraq and for those fascinated by interactive art technologies and the ever-expanding world of online gaming.
"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.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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)
"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. . . . 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 . . .”--Publishers Weekly
"History simply refuses to leave some people alone. The Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal grew up under Saddam Hussein, survived two wars, was forced to live for periods at refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and finally escaped to the U.S. in 1992 to study art. When his father and brother were killed during the latest U.S. invasion of his country, Bilal responded by creating the now infamous art piece Domestic Tension, in which the artist spent a month living in a Chicago gallery where Internet users could watch his day-to-day movements and, if they felt like it, take shots at him with a remote-controlled paint gun. By the end, more than 60,000 people had opened fire. Shoot an Iraqi—a name he initially considered for the installation—combines autobiographical narrative with a discussion of his work and its political implications."--Village Voice
"Ultimately the death of his brother back home via an unmanned American drone compelled Bilal to make his greatest artistic statement yet against all that makes the war in Iraq unreal to most outsiders.. . . a powerful and demanding read, that is, frankly, a literary punch to the gut." --Booklist
"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."--The Brooklyn Rail, November 2008
"'Shoot an Iraqi' is an invaluable work of political art and a clear-eyed view of the profoundly disturbing fate of present-day Iraq." — Shelf Awareness, December 1, 2008
"'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, Newark Star Ledger
"[A] highly readable, moving book."--Bea Leal, The Socialist Review
"Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal details a compelling interactive art project he undertook in 2007 . . . for 31 days in spring 2007, the artist, then a professor at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, lived in Chicago's FlatFile Galleries in front of a webcam and a remote-controlled paintball gun as part of a video game he created that allowed online players . . . to shoot paintballs at him—65,000 in total—sometimes relentlessly. . . . The self-imposed ordeal was also intended to comment on the remote-controlled warfare that allows soldiers to dehumanize their very human targets, including Bilal's brother Haji, a suspected insurgent who was killed with the support of a U.S. drone. For Bilal, who now teaches at NYU, art and life are inseparable."--Art in America, December 2008
"Iraq artist Wafaa immigrated to the U.S. and channeled his haunting experiences into performance pieces, culminating in Domestic Tension: [sic] for an entire month Wafaa, on camera, invited online participants to 'shoot an Iraqi' with a computer-controlled paintball gun. His memoir about his life and the profound impact of his bold installation is powerful and demanding."--Skillings Mining Review
"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." — Art Asia Pacific
"Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun by Wafaa Bilal and Kari Lydersen recounts Bilal's journey, his life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime, his survival of two wars, his life in refugee camps, plus 'Domestic Tension', a month-long live performance in a Chicago gallery with Internet users watching his every movement and taking shots at his with remote-controlled paint guns." — Banipal Magazine
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.'" — Booklist
"Shoot An Iraqi . . . [is an account of] an interactive performance piece, illustrated, from a Iraqi brother for another brother killed by a U.S. Predator drone. ‘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.’ He was shot at 24 hours a day." — Longhousepoetry.com
“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, Art Threat
Book News Annotation:
The gallery decided that Shoot an Iraqi was too provocative, so Bilal (art, New York U.) settled on Domestic Tension as the title of his installation art piece, which allowed viewers on the Internet to point and shoot a paintball gun at him. He grew up in Iraq during two wars and was interned in refugee camps before moving to the US to pursue a career in art and education; the installation was a response to his brother being killed by an unmanned US drone airplane. Journalist Lydersen interviewed him for a year about his life, art, and politics. There is no index. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Award-winning Iraqi artist's life story and reflections on his highly provocative interactive art piece.
Cultural Writing. Middle Eastern Studies. As a child in Iraq, Wafaa Bilal experienced Saddam Hussein's rule, two wars, a bloody uprising and chaotic refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. After becoming a professor and a successful artist in the United States, Bilal creates and stages "Domestic Tension," an unsettling interactive performance piece that confronts those in the comfort zone with the realities of life in a conflict zone. For one month, Bilal lives alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connects him to Internet viewers around the world. The project received overwhelming worldwide attention, garnering the praise of the Chicago Tribune, which called it "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time," while Newsweek assessed the work as "breathtaking."
About 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.
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