I was at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery today to have a good look at the new Winter Show. Several artists are presenting their works. One artist is Wafaa Bilal b. 1966 in Najaf, Iraq, he is an Iraqi American artist, a former professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently an associate professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Wafaa Bilal fled Iraq in 1991 and spent 2 years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. Many members of his family where killed during this period.
The exhibit is entitled 168:01
The title of the installation, 168:01, refers to the 13th-century destruction of the historic House of Wisdom library – then the largest in the world – at the hands of Mongol invaders. “Legend has it that they dumped its entire contents into the Tigris river to create a bridge to cross over, and that the pages bled for seven days – 168 hours,” Bilal said. “The extra 1 is that second when I imagine the books turned white and drained of knowledge.”
Wafaa Bilal’s powerful suite of photographs titled “The Ashes Series” brings the viewer closer to images of violence and war in the Middle East. In an effort to foster empathy and humanize the onslaught of violent images that inundate Western media during wartime, Bilal has reconstructed journalistic images of the destruction caused by the Iraq War. He writes, “Reconstructing the destructed spaces is a way to exist in them, to share them with an audience, and to provide a layer of distance, as the original photographs are too violent and run the risk of alienating the viewer. It represents an attempt to make sense of the destruction and to preserve the moment of serenity after the dust has settled, to give the ephemeral moment extended life in a mix of beauty and violence.” In the photograph “Al-Mutanabbi Street” from “The Ashes Series”, the viewer encounters dilapidated historic and modern buildings on a street covered with layers upon layers of rubble and fragments of torn books. Bilal’s images emanate a slowness that deepens engagement between the viewer and the image, thereby inviting them to share the burden of obliterated societies and reimagine a world built on the values of peace and hope.