Iraqi artist puts himself in line of fire

Provocative video installation by Iraqi-born artist aims to provide metaphor for danger confinement faced by family and friends back home.

If this were real life, Wafaa Bilal wouldn't be alive. After all, he's been shot something like 40,000 times over the past month. Fortunately, the hits have come from a paintball gun. But while paint won't likely kill Bilal, the Iraqi-born artist views the constant assaults as a metaphor for the danger and confinement his family and others face back home.

Bilal's provocative video installation, Domestic Tension, invites the public to log on 24 hours a day to to watch him, contact him or splatter him with bright yellow paint using arrow icons to maneuver a remote-control paintgun.

Wafaa Bilal
Wafaa Bilal can be seen online in his installation via a Webcam.

On the site is a live Webcam image of the artist, who has restricted himself to a room in Chicago's FlatFile Galleries until the exhibit closes on June 15. The site records the time of the last shot, as well as where the firings originated. Visitors can also chat--a recent look at the page showed comments such as "shoot 'em up" or "get more ammo" alternating with statements like "peace to everyone" or expressions of concern about violence and dehumanization.

Bilal sometimes chats live with visitors, as well.

Some people appear baffled by the artist's project, while others seem clearly invested in his work and message. Some people even attempt to stop others from aiming at the 40-year-old Bilal.

Bilal, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and has lost a younger brother as well as his father to war-related violence, writes on his Web site that his art is most influenced by growing up under Sadaam Hussein's repressive regime and by the current war.

"I experienced violence on a daily basis," he says, "and visions of death and terror together with the anguish to the Iraqi people are irrevocably etched in my memory...From this point of departure, through art I strive to uncover an overarching human condition while creating a space for provocation, dialogue and contemplation."

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