Wafaa Bilal


On his book Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun (with Kari Lydersen)

Cover Interview of December 24, 2009

In a nutshell

I live in two worlds. I fled my native Iraq in 1991 during the Gulf War, and after almost two years in horrific refugee camps in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, I started a new life in the U.S. as an artist and professor. My consciousness and my reality are now split between my current life with all its relative luxuries and mundanities, and my home country, which has continually been torn by war and strife.

The 2004 death of my brother in a U.S. bombing, followed closely by the death of my father, brought this duality into stark relief. I had to do something to address the schism between the conflict zone of my home country and the comfort zone of my new life.  I also wanted to provoke dialogue and raise awareness of this schism among the people of my current reality—everyday Americans who largely go about their lives with little awareness of the violence being waged in their names.

So I sequestered myself in a gallery for a month with a robotic paintball gun aimed at me that people could shoot over the internet, 24 hours a day.  The project was called Domestic Tension, or informally, Shoot an Iraqi. The experience provoked unexpected and stirring emotional reactions and discussions—within my own mind and also among the tens of thousands of people who ultimately participated in the project.

The book is about this story—my journey from the conflict zone to the comfort zone, and art, and all the gray areas in between.