About the Photographer
Iraqi, b. 1966
Born in Iraq in 1966, Wafaa Bilal makes unabashedly political art that is deliberately provocative. Using sensationalism, symbolism, and elements of surprise, he hopes to engage people who might otherwise refrain from confronting highly-charged subjects, like the war in his home country. Frequently Bilal's projects integrate video and new media technologies with elements of performance art and installation, creating interactive structures that encourage the viewer's direct particiation.
The photograph Domestic Tension #4 (2007) is derived from Bilal's exhibition of a similar name at Chicago's Flatfile Gallery in 2007. For the 30-day duration of the exhibition, Bilal confined himself in the gallery space along with a live 24-hour web-cam. But visitors to the related website could not only observe the artist, they could remotely control a paintball gun installed in the space, granted the ability to shoot at the artist in the enclosed room. This self-imposed imprisonment, Bilal states, was "designed to raise awareness about the life of the Iraqi people and the home confinement they face due to the both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis." The insertion of the mechanized weapon, armed with bright yellow paint balls, brings to life the latent menace of constant surveillance and transforms the experience of playing a video game into an act with immediate physical implications. In Domestic Tension #4, and other photographs, Bilal depicts moments in the ongoing face-off between the artist and the mechanized weapon, looming here in the foreground. The picture, in this regard, provides a record of the demanding performance and the gallery installation, but, printed at a large size, it also functions independently as a visual metaphor for the intrusion of war into individuals' lives.
Bilal was born in Iraq in 1966. He studied geography and geology at the University of Baghdad, and began making art as a student. During this time he was arrested by Saddam Hussein's regime for the political nature of his artwork, and after the Gulf War he became actively involved in organizing opposition to the government. Barely escaping arrest and execution for these activities, he fled to Kuwait, where he lived in a refugee camp for two years. Bilal came to the United States in 1992 and went on to complete a BFA from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (1999) and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2003). In addition to his activity as an artist working in the mediums of performance art, video, and photography, Bilal is also a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a traveling lecturer.