Digital Media Concepts/Wafaa Bilal Example

Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal is internationally renowned for dialogue provoking political artwork. Bilal integrates themes of  international politics and internal dynamics through high profile, technologically-driven performances that employ the use of robotics, the internet, and photographic mobile mapping.

He is best known for his performance entitled “Domestic Tension”, (2007), in which Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun pointed at him. The paintball gun could be operated remotely by anyone from over the internet.

picture of artists Wafaa Bilal
Wafaa Bilal

Education edit

Bilal's family is from Najaf, Iraq. Originally studying geography at the university in Iraq, Bilal received his BFA in 1999 from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003, and became an adjunct assistant professor the following year. Bilal is currently an Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Notable work edit

Domestic Tension, 2007 edit

For his 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could remotely operate and shoot at him 24/7 over the Internet. The inspiration for Domestic Tension stemmed from Bilal's experiences in refugee camps during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

While confined to the gallery space for a month, Bilal had no way to escape the constant threat and noise of the paintball gun or the feedback he received from viewers watching his every move online. Overall, a total of 60,000 shots were fired over the course of 30 days by "shooters" from 128 different countries.

The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time” and named him 2008 Artist of the Year”. [1]

Virtual Jihadi, 2008 edit

The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi is a computer game artwork created by Wafaa Bilal. A Virtual Jihadi is a modified version of the game Quest for Bush, itself a "hacked" version of the popular commercial video game Quest for Saddam. While in the real game players target the ex-Iraqi leader, in Wafaa's modified version the artist casts himself as a suicide bomber who gets sent on a mission to assassinate President George W. Bush.[2]

Jihadi is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the recent war, as well as their vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups such as Al Qaeda. The work also aims to expose groups that traffic in islamophobic stereotypes with games like Quest for Saddam and other media. (reference:

Kamat, A., & BILAL, W. (2010). INTERVIEW WITH IRAQI ARTIST WAFAA BILAL. The Arab Studies Journal, 18(1), 316–329.


For this year-long performance piece in 2010, commissioned by the Mathaf Museum of Modern Art, Bilal underwent a two-hour long operation to have a digital camera implanted in the back of his skull. The camera automatically took a picture each minute, which was live streamed to the 3rd I website and which was displayed on LCD monitors in the Mathaf Museum.

After doctors refused his initial request to have the camera inserted into his head last year, the artist had the procedure done at a body-piercing studio in Los Angeles. The camera was mounted on three posts attached to a titanium base inserted between Bilal's skin and skull. The set-up had been causing him pain despite treatment with antibiotics and steroids.  The camera had to be removed because his body rejected the device.

(reference 3 goes here,

Other work edit

Bilal’s work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the “comfort zone” of the U.S. and his consciousness of the “conflict zone” in Iraq. Using his own body as a medium, Bilal continued to challenge our comfort zone with projects like 3rdi and …and Counting. Bilal’s most recent body of work, Canto III, premiered in a solo booth at the New York Armory Show in 2015 and went on to be shown in the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Awards and scholarships: edit

Year Award
2012 New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) New York, NY

2012. New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) New York, NY

2011. Freedom to Create Commended Artist Award South Africa

2010. The Kindal Achievement Award

2010. Artforum Critics Pick

2008. GamePolitics: Top 15 Most Fascinating stories of 2008

2008. Get Games: Gaming’s 15 Most Fascinating People of 2008

2008. Editor’s Choice Best Book of 2008, Booklist Magazine 2008

2008. The Dean's Discretionary Fund, New York University 2008 New York, NY

2008. Best Show of the Year, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Milwaukee, WI

2007. Chicago Artist of the year, Chicago Tribune Chicago, IL

2007. New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Program. For celebrative work, New York, NY

2007. Community Artist Assistance Program Grant Chicago, IL

1999. Artist of the Year Albuquerque Turbine Albuquerque, NM 1999 Second Place, Daniel Smith National Competition

1998. Albuquerque Young Artist of the year, Albuquerque Tribune Albuquerque, NM

Selected Works

  • ... and Counting (2010)
  • Virtual Jihadi (2008)
  • 4th of July
  • Domestic Tension
  • Midwest Olympia
  • Human Condition
  • One Chair (2005)
  • A Bar at the Folies Bergère
  • Baiti
  • Mona Lisa (2002)
  • Raze 213 (1999)
  • Absinth Drinker
  • Sorrow of Baghdad (1999)

References edit

  1. "WAFAA BILAL". Chicago Tribune. 2007-12-30. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  2. Bilal, Wafaa; Lydersen, Kari (2008). Shoot an Iraqi: art, life and resistance under the gun. San Francisco, Calif: City Lights. ISBN 978-0-87286-491-7.