The things I could tell…

Wafaa Bilal

In Residence: May 18 – Jul 20, 2015

Exhibition: Jul 16 – Sep 13, 2015

What is the inspiration behind the project?
The idea for the light installation is based on a 9th-century Islamic scientist named Avicenna who used color as a tool to diagnose and treat illnesses. As a result, many psychiatrists and healers have used color as a kind of therapy. With this in mind, I’m offering the gallery space for people to explore their own emotional response to color. The colored glass figures are of Sadam Hussein; by making them miniature I am minimizing the fear associated with the former dictator of Iraq. During the opening reception, viewers will be able to interact with a U.S. veteran of the Iraq war who will select a color that represents his own personal experience with conflict and trauma.

Why are Iraq war veterans important to you?
The Iraq war impacted me personally and I continue to struggle with its after-effects due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This project relates to my individual experience with PTSD; which is common in U.S. Veterans of the Iraq War, and many other people who experience severe trauma. In particular, I’m very concerned with how veterans are treated, or unfortunately in many cases, not treated after they come home. PTSD is not always apparent upon meeting people, but it’s important to be aware of this very real struggle faced by veterans and those impacted by war.

Why did you choose to lean the wall in the space?
I wanted the wall to take over the space and be as imposing as possible for people within it. The wall itself could signify many things, but the positioning makes it very precarious. The angle of the wall is something I wanted to leave open for interpretation, without a single meaning assigned to it.

What role does the viewer play in your work?
The viewer plays a key role. Installation art is about decentering the viewer and raising questions, rather than providing a strict interpretation. This project is, in part, about my own trauma and creating a platform for visibility, but I leave it open to viewers to explore additional possibilities related to their own life experiences.

During the opening reception a guest veteran will be present, providing an overt focus on PTSD and the effects of war, which remain largely invisible to us. The viewer and the veteran will have a face-to-face, but silent interaction. I want the viewer and the veteran to only look at each other because so much remains hidden in our interpersonal interactions and understanding of other people.

Following the opening, viewers are welcome to spend time in the space among the colored lights, which they can control, and draw their own conclusions about the impact of color and angle of the wall.


Wafaa Bilal

New York, New York, USA

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal, an Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, is known internationally for his online performance-based and interactive works, which provoke dialogue about international politics and internal dynamics. Previous projects reference surveillance, the mundane, and the things we leave behind. In Bilal’s 2007 project, Domestic Tension, which addressed the Iraq war, the artist spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun, live streaming the space on the internet and inviting online participants to activate the gun’s aim to shoot at him in real time. Bilal graduated from the University of New Mexico and obtained an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2008 City Lights published “Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun,” about Bilal’s life and the Domestic Tension project.

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Ian Alden Russell

Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Ian Alden Russell is an independent curator and designer based in Rhode Island. With an academic background in intellectual history, archaeology, and heritage studies, he focuses on the practice of artists and curators in galleries, museums, heritage sites, and public spaces, especially the application of social practice in the constitution of cultural heritage.

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