Interview: Wafaa Bilal
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The Iraqi political artist has reached global audiences with his thought provoking work, but it hasn’t come easy for the NYU professor. From being locked in a room for 30 days while being shot with paintballs by Internet users, experiencing the water boarding technique first hand and enduring an arduous 24-hour tattoo session to represent the casualties in the Iraq war, including his own brother - pain is a platform that has been covered extensively by Wafaa Bilal. His project, the 3rd Eye has received awe from the global media. It involves the artist surgically implanting a camera in the back of his head for a year and relaying a still image every minute to the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. Many wonder why on earth he would involve himself with such a painful procedure, performed not by a doctor but by a tattoo and piercing specialist. Growing up under Saddam’s regime has undoubtedly inspired Wafaa’s engaging and breathtaking work. “I remember in 1991 leaving my home town after being bombarded by Saddam's regime, I saw the rising smoke of the city and I wished I could have captured some of these images. If I had the apparatus to capture the city the pictures would have been very subjective. From that idea I started to think about how the photographer uses that subjectivity when taking images." “I started thinking of the project the 3rd Eye and decided it needed to be part of my body for it to become part of the apparatus, to lose some of the subjectivity but not all of it because that would be impossible, since by choice the camera was placed in the back of my head." “It is extremely painful, not only did I endure the operation under local anaesthesia but also you have to take care of it, half of the skin on the back of my head is now lifted where the magnetic plate is,” explains the artist. Wafaa started to take an interest in art from an early age, but was hindered from pursuing his passion by Saddam’s regime. “At the age of seven I started drawing, later on I graduated from high school and was denied entry to an art course because of my family’s stance against the regime.” The artist’s upbringing was hard under the rule of the Saddam. “It was horrible, definitely no freedom, as kids we were not even allowed to talk to our siblings, we were afraid of expressing ourselves. There were many incidents where siblings reported each other to the government.”
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