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Wafa Bilal: With art, I send a message of hope to Iraq – our life – culture

The Iraqi-American artist, Wafa Bilal, described the House of Wisdom in Sharjah as an ideal space to host his exhibitions “168: 01” and “The Ash Series”, noting that the unique design of the “House” is inspired by contemporary architecture, which combines simplicity, modernity and thoughtful use. For light and spaces, he contributed to the success of the two exhibitions’ idea and their experience, which depends on interaction with the audience and the audience.

The hosting of the two exhibitions Bilal, who is a professor of art at the Tisch College of Art at New York University, is the first of his work in the Middle East. It was succeeded by the war in Iraq. The first exhibition “168: 01” includes in one part a library full of blank and white books, in an invitation to visitors to exchange them for paper prints, to be sent to the library of the College of Art at the University of Baghdad, which was burned during the American invasion of Iraq, which led to the transformation of more than 70 thousand books To ashes. As for the second exhibition, “The Series of Ashes”, it includes pictures of miniature models of scenes of destruction caused by the war in Iraq, which the artist designed, executed, and then photographed, to present works that convey a vivid picture of this experience, by focusing on the absence of people and the features of life from the demolished homes. Which was teeming with the souls of its inhabitants.

An ideal location

About his choice to organize “168: 01” in a place that is neither a museum nor an art exhibition, Bilal told “Emirates Today”: “The House of Wisdom combines the concepts of the library and the educational and cultural space, which made it an ideal place to host the exhibition, and with the wealth the library embraces.” With a knowledge of 265,000 books, the exhibition, which contains blank books with white pages, highlights the stark contrast between the bookshelves full of books in the House of Wisdom and the white books that are thoughtfully arranged on the shelves of the exhibition to highlight the value of knowledge. The aim of the exhibition remains the same in every place in which it is held, but the difference lies in the specifications of the space in which it was exhibited, whether it is an art gallery or a museum, as well as in the way the work is read and understood within these different contexts. About his goal of presenting “168: 01” as a participatory project, he added: “The exhibition highlights the need to strengthen intercultural communication, and also highlights the idea of ​​reconstruction. My goal is to help break the isolation of the intellectual and artistic community in Baghdad, by connecting it with other, wider societies. And to assure the Iraqis that the world will not forget them after the end of the war. He continued: “I wanted through my work to create a kind of human and moral communication that generates a feeling of sympathy, strengthens joint efforts and motivates us to work hand in hand. I believe in participatory art and the ability of artists to create a stimulating environment for all stakeholders, including contributors, donors and beneficiaries, in addition to the place that hosts the exhibition. , And his role in explaining that the process of rebuilding is an emotional and humanitarian work ».


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The “Series of Ashes” exhibition is distinguished by highlighting the importance of human presence amid the rubble and debris of previously inhabited places, by scattering 21 grams of ashes, as the Iraqi artist wanted the “series” to be an invitation to every person to think about the meaning of cultural loss, revealing that “ The 21 grams of ashes represent the supposed amount of weight that the body loses when the soul leaves it upon death, just as the ashes remind us of the losses in human lives and that once the ashes are gone, we must stand up again to go ahead in life. ”

He explained, “These two projects are beautifully linked when we see the library at Exhibition 168: 01 emerging from the ashes in the House of Wisdom in Iraq, and we witness the replacement of books with white pages and devoid of knowledge with others that are rich in knowledge and spring up with color.”

The beginning of the idea

On the idea of ​​the “Ashes Series” exhibition in particular, Bilal said, “I started coming to mind in 2003 when I saw for the first time pictures of devastation in one of the conflict areas in Iraq, and compared it to the comfortable life that I live in the United States, and I thought about the fact that over time these scenes fade. From our memory to lose with time our feeling of the suffering of others, then I began to search for an appropriate way to attract the audience and invite them to view images of the destruction without affecting their feelings in a harsh way, so I created a group of beautiful pictures, but at the same time they contain distorted or destructive elements to draw the viewer’s attention in an effective way. ».

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“For me, that project was a contemplative ritual that helped me feel close to my country. I used pictures as a way to highlight the contradiction and dissonance between the carefree life and the scenes of conflict, the pleasure of looking at the beauty presented by the pictures, and feeling the severity of the pain that lies in their details,” he said. I wanted to give the viewer a real artistic experience in which he feels the significance of every image through the absence of the human element in it.

Our strength

The artist, Wafa Bilal, said, “Heritage is not limited to handicrafts or things, but rather is an embodiment of our identity, our way of life, the history of our ancestors and the past of our ancestors, and this is precisely what makes it our strength and our cultural uniqueness. And the heritage of nations has always been an intended target of any war, as the destruction of the heritage symbols of a people allows rewriting and replacing its history, and this is called cultural obliteration, so it is important for us to realize this fact, and to work to restore, protect and document our heritage in order to preserve it for future generations and ensure its sustainability. Our existence ».

A space for contemplation and communication

Artist Wafa Bilal said about the role played by the House of Wisdom in Sharjah: “We must look at it outside the framework of the place designated for education only, as it is an integrated space that brings people together in a different way from traditional libraries whose role is limited to presenting the human intellectual product to its users, whether the old product. Or contemporary ».

He added, “Today, there is an increasing need to create public spaces that enhance our connection with society and deepen our communication with people around us and with other societies. Here comes the role of such cultural edifices to provide us with a space for contemplation, social communication and thinking about many social issues that affect our lives, in addition to It is a center for knowledge and knowledge acquisition. ”

– “(Exhibit 01: 168) highlights the need to enhance communication between cultures.”

– «Project Series

Ash was a ritual

Meditative, it helped me feel close

From my homeland ».

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