the iraq war? The question remains open-ended as one muses over iraqi-born artist. Wafaa Bilal’s Ashes (2003–13) photographic series that documents the
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110 H as the proverbial dust settled in the aftermath of the Iraq war? The question remains open-ended as one muses over Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal™s Ashes (2003Œ13) photographic series that documents the residues of war. With 2013 marking 10 years since the American invasion of Iraq, a war continues inside the country as its citizens face sectarian violence and insurgent attacks whilst attempting to rebuild their lives. Bilal™s practice has also evolved, having established himself as technology-driven performance artist who uses his body as a canvas, and has frequently subjected himself to producing work that involves intense mental and physical endurance. fiMy work is more concerned with poetic contemplation of cul – ture, whereas previously it was more connected to physicality,fl explains Bilal. Within his densely packed photographs, one can locate visual cues that mark the disasters that have fallen both upon his native Iraq and the artist, who has su˜ered a tumultuous life™s journey. Composed of miniature model sets of recognisable Iraqi architecture that was bombarded during the war, these staged photographs resem -Sara Raza pro˚les Iraqi-born Wafaa Bilal Œ an artist whose intense body of work incites audience engagement and intellectual stimulation. PRO FILEOpening spread: (Detail) The Ashes Series: Dark Palace. 2003Œ13. Archival inkjet photograph, 101.6 x 127 cm. Image courtesy the artist.This spread: Left: 3rdi. 2010Œ11. © Wafaa Bilal. Image courtesy the artist and Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai; Centre and right: Installation view of Meme Junkyard: Technoviking. 2012. © Wafaa Bilal, from the Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Manchester, UK.Image courtesy the artist and Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai.

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111PRO FILEble the theatre of war, a stage for absolute violence and beauty. One image from the series showcases a lone medical pillow on the ˛oor of a ravaged healthcare institution, while another presents a possible dicta -tor™s chair in a destroyed palace. Both images feature strewn rubble and debris and exemplify an apocalyp -tic state that appears to be devoid of humans. What remains deliberately concealed within these images is Bilal™s scattering of 21 grams of human ashes on these models. fiThese ashes sealed a human aura within my images,fl he explains. fiThe 21 grams of ashes reference the weight of the soul.fl Haunting in their disposition, these works highlight the artist™s relationship to both time and space as he measures the immemorial disas – ter from his position in the US A, a place of security and stability that he refers to as the ficomfort zonefl in oppo -sition to the ficon˛ict zonefl that Iraq represents. OPTICAL ILLUSIONSProximity has played a large role in the formation of Bilal™s artistic career. He had been denied entry into the Fine Arts programme at the University of Baghdad fiMy work is not for personal glori˜cation, but rather for interaction and engagement.fl (UB) due to the alleged disloyalty of a family member and subsequently pursued a degree in geography. Whilst at UB, he was closely monitored and, predict -ing a backlash against his family, Bilal, along with his older brother, ˛ed Iraq in 1991. He spent the next two years living as a refugee with neither state nor abode in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia before eventually being granted political asylum in the US A. There, he was ˚nally able to study art at the University of New Mexico and later at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was also an instructor. He moved to the Big Apple and is now Assistant Arts Professor at New York University™s Tisch School of the Arts. Throughout Bilal™s practice, Iraq™s social, cultural and political architecture remains a consistent theme. He confesses that his subject matter chose him rath – er than the other way around: fi I always maintain a position that either we adopt a subject or it adopts us. I really didn™t have the privilege to choose.fl Referencing home and history is therefore an important inspiration behind another new architecturally inspired work Œ The Hierarchy of Being Œ that is currently on view at the Maraya Art Park in Sharjah until the end of 2014. This

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112PRO FILEmonumental sculpture speci˚cally expands on Bilal™s interest in optics and imaging. The project is directly informed by the scienti˚c developments of two pioneering Iraqi/Persian polymaths from the Golden Era of Islam Œ the 11th century Ibn Al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura, and 12th century Al-Jazari who developed engineering practices for mechanical devices. fiDrawing on ancient Islamic culture was an impor -tant part of the project,fl adds Bilal, who re-appropriated the polymaths™ ideas within a sculptural context to recreate the magical and poetic camera obscura experience for audiences to enjoy. The Hierarchy of Being is a continuation of Bilal™s study of optics within the acclaimed 3rdi (2010Œ11) fiThere are two things I meditate on: aesthetic pain and pleasure.fl

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113This page:Above and below: Stills from Virtual Jihadi. 2008. © Wafaa Bilal. Image courtesy the artist and Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai.Facing page: Hierarchy of Being. 2013. Kinetic sculpture. 500 x 900 cm. © Orlando V. Thompson. Image courtesy the artist.PRO FILEyear-long performance, that debuted at Doha™s Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art Museum as part of the Told/Untold/Retold exhibition cu -rated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. 3rdi saw Bilal surgically mount a camera at the back of his head, which took one picture every minute for one year and was attached to a wi-˚ device connected to The project was a statement on the mundane and mechanical ex -tension of the body via the camera and Internet connectivity. However, 3rdi was not without its problems: the artist su˜ered persistent infec – tions due to the head mount, which forced him to try a series of alternative camera options that ranged from a collar attachment to a custom- made pair of goggles to complete the project and remain connected documenting his life. When asked if 3rdi was motivated by a desire to solicit public attention, which some may per -ceive as self-indulgent, Bilal replied: fiMy work is not for personal glori˚cation, but rather for inter -action and engagement.fl THE R EAL IN THE VI RTU ALIronically, he later explored the theme of narcis -sism and connectivity within Technoviking (2012) Œ a large in˛atable avatar head of a highly popu – lar YouTube video sensation of a bare-chested, techno-dancing alpha male Viking from a Ger -man street festival in 2007 Œ which he presented at the Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Man -chester. The video was watched by millions on YouTube and equally shared and blogged glo -bally. However, like all Internet sensations and memes, Technoviking experienced a limited shelf life and Bilal became inspired by the ques – tion of what happens when people lose their link to connectivity and attention and sensation subside. fiThe virtual realm is important here,fl he explains. fiThere is a sense of wider engage -ment, but what happens when that attention is over?fl As a study, he connected his avatar™s head to a Twitter account and asked members of the public to tweet #technoviking to in˛ate it. The project was a commentary on the role that Inte

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115PRO FILEFacing page: Above and below: Stills from the Domestic Tension performance. 2007. Image courtesy the artist. This page: A still from the –and Counting performance. 2010. Image courtesy the artist.Al-Qaeda, in which players could eliminate Ameri -can soldiers and President Bush, it was adapted from an earlier released American game entitled Quest for Saddam . Within the game, Bilal™s character is on a mission to avenge the death of his brother and father and assassinate President Bush. Despite the game being perceived as a commentary on reversed terrorism, it was inaccurately censored by pro-Republicans at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, 2008, where Bilal was an artist in residence. In other works, Bilal employed performance alongside technology and mapping to further engage audiences. Within the 24-hour per -formance piece –and Counting (2010), at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York, the artist worked with mapping technology to map out Iraq and then employed a tattoo artist to draw a borderless map on his back. On the map, Bilal had the American soldiers™ deaths tat -tooed in red permanent dots, while Iraqi civilian casualties were marked by blue dots of UV ink, that were invisible unless seen under black light. As the tattoo performance was taking place, members of the public read out the names of the deceased as part of a memory ceremony. fiThere are two things I meditate on: aesthetic pain and pleasure Œ my body endures the physical strain in order for me to engage people through the corporeal language,fl commented Bilal when probed on the nature of such physically intense performances. Undoubtedly, his current practice has greatly softened and mutated. The dust may have set -tled in more ways than one, marking a departure from his earlier works that provoked confronta – tion and were possibly deemed as militant. The audience is still central to his work, yet perhaps its proximity has altered to a space of cerebral contemplation. With the absence of sensation that was heavily dominant in his earlier works, Bilal™s current direction demonstrates a newer sense of maturity. For more information, visit www.wafaabilal. com and

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