What To Do? Thursday's Pick: Wafaa Bilal

Categories: What to Do

Wafaa Bilal @ City Lights Books
On March 8, Wafaa Bilal, a professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, turned his back into a canvas for our collective conscience. During a 24-hour tattoo session, a borderless map of Iraq was drilled full of dots representing every casualty of the war -- 105,000 and counting -- as volunteers read aloud the names of the dead. This is not the first time Bilal has placed himself under the gun for art.

In 2007, for a performance piece titled Domestic Tension, the native Iraqi locked himself in a cell-sized room for a month, under constant video surveillance streamed to the Internet. Viewers from around the world could log on 24 hours a day and, with a keystroke, shoot him with a remotely controlled paintball gun any time they wished. And they did wish.

Art scholars and critics were stunned. The Chicago Tribune named him Artist of the Year and clamored to put the new media work into context. Shoot an Iraqi, his subsequent book, offers art scholarship as well a nerve-wracking perspective from the "cell," and background from his real life -- enduring Saddam, Sunni-Shia violence, the Gulf War, the death of his brother from a missile attack, a stay at a loathsome Saudi refugee camp, and, finally, the American immigrant experience.

Tonight, Bilal shares his book, his life, and, likely, his new tattoo at City Lights Books at 7 p.m. (free).

For more Thursday picks, visit our calendar recommendations.

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