SAIC alum and Iraqi refugee confronts the conflict back home by eliciting participation and challenging perception.
Wafaa Bilal (MFA 2003) began SAIC’s graduate program in Art and Technology Studies after working as an artist and activist in Iraq, where he lived under constant threat of arrest. Shortly after Bilal graduated, his brother was killed by an unmanned Predator drone.
This tragedy inspired Domestic Tension, an interactive performance in which Bilal confined himself to a room for 31 days with a robotic paintball gun that could be operated through the project’s website. People from all over the world could see Bilal and shoot him whenever they wanted, as many times as they wanted. In just a month, the website had 80 million hits and 70,000 paintballs were red. But what’s most amazing is how people engaged with the project.
A group of hackers broke into the site and programmed the gun to shoot at him non-stop. In response, another group reversed that code to protect Bilal. People also used the project’s message board to connect with each other, debating the questions Domestic Tension raised.
Bilal’s work is thought-provoking and relentlessly creative, but its greatest value lies in its ability to demand a response from the viewer, to confront us with uncomfortable truths, and to start important conversations. That’s Beautiful/Work.