April 1 - May 10, 2014

Wafaa Bilal

I Don't Know Their Names

An exhibit by interactive artist Wafaa Bilal, "I Don't Know Their Names," will be on display April 1 through May 10 at the Linfield Gallery in the James Miller Fine Arts Center at Linfield College. An artist talk and opening reception for Bilal will be held on Wednesday, April 2, at 6 p.m. in the Gallery.

Bilal is known internationally for his interactive works provoking dialogue about world politics and internal dynamics. "I Don't Know Their Names" is a durational performance in which the names of 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the Iraq War are painted on the walls in Arabic in white semi-translucent paint. The subtle memorial is a nearly invisible testament to the humanity of those who lost their lives in the Iraq War conflict. The project utilizes the Linfield Gallery, taking advantage of its natural lighting and physical configuration. When visitors enter the space, the gallery appears to contain nothing. However, as sunlight travels across the gallery over the course of the day, it refracts against the reflective paint, revealing the hidden text.

"I Don't Know Their Names" answers a common refrain in conflicts - that as casualties escalate, the personal stories of each tragedy are lost in the dehumanizing scale of modern warfare. Faces and stories denigrate to names; names denigrate to numbers. War memorials often name the soldiers whose lives are lost in combat, but rarely is equal attention given to the civilians of conflict. The exhibit responds to questions, such as what are the names behind the numbers? And who were they?


Bilal, an associate arts professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, fled Iraq in 1991 during the first Gulf War. After two years in refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, he came to the U.S. where he graduated from the University of New Mexico and received 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. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, Calif.; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, Ill.; MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar; among others.

In 2010, Bilal had a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head to spontaneously transmit images to the web 24 hours a day - a statement on surveillance, the mundane and the things we leave behind. Bilal's 2010 work "And Counting" similarly used his own body as a medium. His back was tattooed with a map of Iraq and dots representing Iraqi and U.S. casualties - the Iraqis in invisible ink seen only under a black light. Bilal's 2007 installation, "Domestic Tension", also addressed the Iraq war. Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could shoot at him over the internet.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Lacroute Arts Series at Linfield College, the Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement (PLACE), Linfield Gallery and the Department of Art and Visual Culture.

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