Wafaa Bilal

Artist's Website

My life in Iraq was defined by decades of war and repression. Since coming to the United States, I have lived in relative peace and comfort, but I am nevertheless tied to my homeland and the strife and violence there. In the U.S., I have seen great injustice and suffering in the forms of poverty, racism, and other symbols of discrimination and hatred. Through art I strive to uncover an overarching human condition while creating space for contemplation, provocation, dialogue, and change. 

Historically, art has been a means of expressing personal and societal realities and interpretations. As both educator and agitator, the artist must continue to push these boundaries. With photography, I create symbolic images, hyper-real “interior landscapes”, expressing conditions just beyond reality. They represent the psychology of human suffering in a society ruled by oppression, domination, and fear. Within the frame, time and place lose specificity and express a broader human condition. Building and photographing these objects are meditative acts for connection. 

My interactive video installations provide another level of impact: I play with the viewer’s presence and engagement or lack thereof, allowing this to alter the course of the piece. As the viewer may be removed from the conflict addressed within the work, I filter the subject through specific historical and psychological contexts. The frame acts as a window to the past, while the moving image exemplifies a persistent-present, a condition influenced by circumstances that inhibit change. The moment something is done to change a situation, the persistent-present becomes a progressive-present and critical pathways become possible. 

I have recently realized the limitations of static art, and am focused on creating interactive works that elicit dynamic encounters involving the viewer as participant. Pieces like “Domestic Tension/Shoot an Iraqi” allow the viewer to assist in the narrative’s realization, making it both democratic and participatory. The outcome is unknown and unpredictable, and a static image is replaced by the power of an ephemeral experience: the artist builds the platform for an open narrative to be directed and determined by the viewers. The viewer-come-participant is subjected to fewer boundaries and granted more flexibility. Additionally, viewers are capable of interacting across borders: “Domestic Tension” distributed the role of narrator among people from 138 countries who were able to converge virtually in the same space. Personal narratives were integrated, and strands of dialog began to inform each other—constantly changing the face of the piece. The work changed from didactic to dynamic; instead of being told what the eventual outcome would be, everyone was given equal opportunity to participate in its writing. 

I hope for my work to lead to real change in the lives and perspectives of viewer-participants. I want provoke people to move from a passive to an active stance, intellectually, emotionally and perhaps even physically, with regard to war and aspects of our political reality. I hope to foster a sense of self-empowerment in my audience that runs counter the helplessness one may feel in the face of inhumanity.